But in Glass Period, Caitlin Pasko's first release under her own name, she uses the captivating simplicity of hands and breath to communicate that a weight such as this is best dealt with by sharing it. On piano, Pasko is at home, and she invites us to come in, sit down and join her.
The depth that Pasko reaches in Glass Period is very personal: a rare emotional journey documented in six songs that are specific enough in origin, but vague enough for the listener to connect with on their own level. Described as a “small chapel to personal grief,” I imagine listening to this collection in mid-morning, as soft light filters through stained glass to reach the luminous wood floors of her private construct. She sits at a grand piano at the front of this spacious yet intimate room, on the same level as the pews. Sound echoes vibrantly off the stone walls, wooden furniture and vaulted ceiling. A minimalistic piece of architecture, sparse and simple. Brown, white, yellow. A solace from the outside world, but not separate from it. A place that only exists because this album does.
Pasko lost her father recently, and endured a break-up soon after. Her mother, alone in romantic love after 38 years, and Pasko, an only child, now have just each other. But Pasko has found through the creation of this album, that she and her musical vision are not alone. Because others have joined hands with her in a time of trial, she now lends one to us.
It’s a wonderful bit of fate when the right music comes along at just the right time, entering my life sometimes when I least knew I needed it. Pasko’s work resonates with me on many levels in the present, in ways that hurt to acknowledge and remind me of the indefinable things that keep me going.
She starts with the haunting and slow, “Barking Dog,” reminding us that we are born and die alone. A dark start to something so beautiful, as she asks, “What about the time in between?” The piano is constant, leading step by step, as Pasko leads into greater statements about what it is to be alive, and to feel.
It’s the moments full of space in “Favorite Dessert,” however, that leave me baffled every time. A tour of grief, Pasko alludes to letting someone go as she visits locations throughout her day. The shower. The grocery store. The bathroom. So short, yet so powerful, I forgot to exhale until “Open Windows” came in. The two pair like a diptych, dark to light. Indoor to outside. Harmonies on the keys create a gorgeous backdrop to a landscape with bare feet and bright fires. The additional sounds that pulse and beat behind her drive the heart to beat faster, to feel more, to fill oneself with sound and not in thought. “I picture you in tall grass,” Pasko breathes, “I picture you with no shoes on.”
“The Still” cut me right in half, with a soft knife. “I was afraid to fall in,” Pasko sighs, “I was afraid to fall out.” For any large emotion, whether grief or heartbreak or anxiety, the purgatory of immersion or avoidance is a familiar cliff. As she jumps up to higher notes, a release kicks me inside; as the music gets louder, I let go. Using the piano like a gong, she signals it is time.
Right at the start of the final track, “Get Right,” Pasko laughs and says, “I’m gonna keep going.” You can hear the smile on her lips, the tingle in her fingers. The thought that this might be the first take of this song on record. There’s anticipation in the static before she sings.
“How lucky am I?” Pasko asks, plucking notes on the piano strings. A strange kind of question to end a somber record, as she confronts the reality of loss in all its forms with an almost upbeat style. “And I know why,” she persists, pushing the tempo, tangling the notes. She keeps going.
Like she must, like we all must do; in the face of grief, in the startling light of morning.
“You’re gonna lose me,” Pasko knows. Yet at the end, she sings with a sense of relief, a lifting weight. Like after getting the notes out, they can final float away. There is such a complex presence of permanence and also a temporary touch to the entirety of the album, like a dream that you confuse with reality upon waking. Letting go but knowing they will always be with you.
There’s a sense of safety in living somewhere other than the present, of muddling the intensity of facing one’s feelings. But when a stranger turns to you and announces, you are here. And I am here, too. What is here and ahead is difficult - but there is a way through. Are you willing to follow? When that stranger is Pasko, you press play.