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Tell Me How I Finally Figured It Out
discovering a deeper meaning, 15 years later
Title: Now the One You Once Loved Is Leaving
I had already dismissed Lydia before I saw them. Their debut, 2005’s confusingly-titled This December; It’s Once More and I’m Free, was beloved by annoying scene kids like me, and so I was socially obligated to be familiar with it. But in a pre-streaming age, the limited exposure I had to that record was underwhelming, so I assumed Lydia was just another entry in the infinite list of “cool” bands that simply don’t do it for me.1
Then, in the summer of 2008, I saw them open for The Dear Hunter in a dingy club in Flint and they were so very, very impressive. I can be won over by vocals and even though Leighton Antelman had this weird, languid energy, he sang powerfully and was perfectly complemented by Mindy White’s2 harmonies. The entire band was tight,3 and their new material—from the recently released Illuminate—was fascinating: heavy at times, yet sometimes serene, with understated but undeniable melodic lines, and a sense of power and tenderness and complexity that is enthralling to a select group of weirdos like me.
I picked up a copy of Illuminate that night and proceeded to listen to it over and over and over again. The entire record is phenomenal—seriously, do yourself a favor and spin the whole thing today—but within that excellent framework, finale “Now the One You Once Loved Is Leaving” stands apart as the most unique, and possibly best, song on the album. It’s also much more richly written than I had ever realized.
The song is cut into two parts;4 the first begins with a slow, ethereal build that eventually explodes into snare-roll cataclysms and a guitar riff that’s been flanged to within an inch of its life. Instrumentally, this is excellent stuff, but it’s also a natural development from everything else that Illuminate has provided. But White’s first appearance as the lead vocalist introduces a new energy. Even at his most exuberant, Antelman’s vocals are muted and introspective, but White’s vocals have a markedly different aspect. Her performance here is confident and forthright, but also a bit ghostly.
And that may be exactly right.
The second part of “Now the One” starts with this line:
suddenly a cloud must have cut a hole in my head
Back in 2008, I tossed that off as nonsensical lyric poetry, but—spurred to the point by the contributors over at Genius—careful readings suggest that White’s cloud is gun smoke and that the titular one who is leaving is making the most final of exits. This is a song about suicide.
White and Antelman lay lyrical groundwork as their bandmates lay the sonic one: As the song swells and builds and crescendos, White’s narrator makes claims of infidelity, followed by a plea to “stay for me,” then Antelman’s narrator enters in the second verse with a cruel rhetorical question (“is it a wonder you’re lonely / taking chances to feel again”), before White rejoins him for one last harmonized, tortured plea to “stay for me … stay on me” as the song explodes, and then, all at once, vanishes.5
In the aftermath that is the song’s second half, a dreamy guitar and an ethereal key line welcome White back, her vocals heavy with reverb. Programmed percussion enters and is muted, foggy. It’s like White is singing in some big, empty space—the blank white room that cinematography has told us is the afterlife.
During this post-mortem epilogue, White’s narrator lays the blame on Antelman’s selfishness, his egotism.6 But even then, she still loves him, wants to let him off the hook: “But it’s not your fault when no one taught you how.” And then he lives down to expectations, taking no responsibility, and pushing the blame right back on her, claiming that not only did she think her death wouldn’t impact him (“you’re so sure that I’d be just fine here”) but also that she pulled the trigger because she wanted to (“but you were surely just taking your own time dear”). His callousness and her vulnerability are cutting and emotive because, to paraphrase George Saunders, this is how people really are sometimes. That’s quality writing. But it’s not quite the end.
All the while, growing ever quieter and more distant, is White’s repeated, heartbroken refrain—“and now the one you once loved is leaving”—which fades and fades until it’s drowned out by indiscernible chatter and then one last brief static crescendo before, abruptly, the song and album, fittingly, end in silence.
I give “Now the One You Once Loved Is Leaving” five out of five stars.
I still don’t get the Blood Brothers thing, you guys. Any time I hear one of their songs, I just keep wondering when does the good part start?
After Illuminate, the band members of Lydia dissolved and the name came to be an Antelman solo vehicle, to mixed results. “The Exit” and “Take Your Time” from 2013’s Devil are the shared high point of six more records. White would later form the band States with some members of Copeland and that group put out some quality work. If you’re interested, I’d recommend starting with “Follow It Home,” “Waiting (For Too Long),” or “Another Chapter.” I assume that the seed for States was planted in the fall of 2008, when Lydia toured with Copeland. I happened to attend a stop on that tour as well, but, much to my disappointment, Lydia wasn’t able to perform that night because they had hit a deer with their tour van the night prior. Bummer all around.
You could argue that the track that precedes it, “…Ha Yeah It Got Pretty Bad,” is actually a third part, a minute-long introduction: For its 62 seconds, “…Ha Yeah” features a guitar riff that is eerily reminiscent of what “Now the One” will present, only everything has been tinged with dissonance and sharp timbres, as if “Now the One” had passed through a Halloween-ifying filter. While brief, “…Ha Yeah” is a very good song, too. Really, go listen to Illuminate. It’s a tremendous record.
Footnote to the footnote: “Music Makers,” from 2010’s Assailants, is basically a palette-swapped version of “…Ha Yeah” and, either because of or despite that, I’ve always enjoyed it.
That little motif—crescendo to sharp cutoff—repeats throughout the song, to great effect.
“suddenly a cloud must have cut a hole in my head / when I was tangled all in your words / how quick to forget we are / with eyes unimpressed, you’re sealing the conversations / and are you wondering how things could be / just staring at the surface / when all the walls have tendencies”
I love the incredibly basic but effective ascending melody that White uses here. It pulls the listener forward and up, grabbing your attention and creating sonic tension, even as its slow, consistent rhythm understates those effects. It’s brilliant but feels effortless, and that’s what makes it great.