Cory Lomberg only watches the movies of her dreams.
The release of Built To Spill’s 1994 album, There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, coincided with a pivotal moment in frontman Doug Martsch’s life: the birth of his first son, Ben. Keeping consistent with this hallmark, the record works through the anxieties of bringing new life into the world when he’s not so sure what that entails—what the universe holds, physically and metaphorically. How he should let it filter in, and when.
More than any other track, “Car” poses such questions in blunt, poetically specific terms. Martsch dreams of the a-ha moment “when you find out what comets, stars and moons are all about.” If that epiphany never arrives, maybe you can find solace in the everyday, like “when you get stoned on a cloudy, breezy desert afternoon.” He strives to draw out how the world is supposed to look while acknowledging the uncertainty in that objective.
Emily Reo’s 2013 cover of “Car” proves that she gets it, too. She replaces Built To Spill’s chords with eerie synths that spiral under her own voice, pushing forward amidst an electric organ. There’s still uncertainty, but it falters in the presence of her center.
Three years later, Reo has returned with “Spell,” the first song from her upcoming 10” of the same name. Like Martsch, she drills the question of self into the center of her surroundings, a place packed with natural forces, other faces, man-made structures, and sometimes, a sensation that contorts all of these elements into what looks and feels like nothing at all.
Reo motions to her environment, noting a mountainside, an ocean, a mudslide, a wildfire raging on, and trees being sucked into the flames. Earth spins on in its different shades. But over the dizzying shimmer of bells, synths and strings, she repeats, “I can’t feel anything.” Numbness appears like a jar placed over her figure, blurring these visions, keeping her from scaling the mountain, rushing the ocean, wading through the mud or feeling the flame.
A distortion of voices—maybe multiple, or the same one—gradually peel away as they ask, “Why can’t you feel anything?” and later, “Is it me?” When nothing can touch you, one is tempted to ask just what it will take to prompt feeling. In her cover of “Car,” Reo repurposes Martsch’s poignant words to address what she hopes to uncover: “I want specifics on the general idea.” In her own song, she embraces the general idea without trying to crack it open. Nothing is left but an amorphous understanding, and that’s alright. Most of the time, you don’t need all the answers. You just need to be okay.