The new I Am Snow Angel album Lost World is a beautifully intricate and intimate portrait of our troubled times.
When a mysterious illness broke out in China in early 2020, my anxiety-riddled post-partum brain fixated on the developing news story. I obsessively read articles and twitter posts by the blue light of my phone in the early morning hours when I couldn’t sleep. My mind was filled with dread.
Scenes from one of my favorite recent novels, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, began to populate my consciousness. I remembered the uneasy excitement I’d felt reading it a few years prior. It’s the type of speculative fiction that I’ve always liked to scare myself with; it feels like something that could actually happen.
In St. John Mandel’s dystopia, a deadly flu wipes out most of the world’s population. Those who do survive the pandemic and subsequent collapse of civilization must fend for themselves in a harsh and treacherous landscape; they must become wise, self-reliant, and even violent when necessary. The book’s protagonist, Kristen, is a musician traveling with a group of other artists, trying to keep the arts alive in a post-apocalyptic world. In order to survive, Kristen fights and even kills in self-defense, carrying these scars with her as tattoos.
Flash forward to March 2020, when Covid-19 started to look like a global pandemic. My imagination extrapolated these frightening images onto my own life. I envisioned myself trekking through a sparse, wind-blown plain with my baby strapped to my back. I imagined stocking up on food and carrying it with us. As we braved the elements, we would learn to be discerning and alert and self-reliant like Kristen.
I knew these fantasies were far-fetched and detached from reality but they continued to run on a loop in the back of my mind. They were distressing, but they distracted me from my claustrophobic reality. As 2020 and 2021 dragged on and I stumbled through a foggy, unreal overlap of new motherhood and pandemic life, these fantastical apocalyptic visions wove their way through my psyche and into my songwriting, blessing me with bursts of inspiration and ultimately forming the basis of my new album Lost World.
Much of the album is set in a dystopian world where we have only memories to distract us from our reality. In “Twisted Romance,” the second track on the album – which is both retro and futuristic – even our memories are threatened as the matrix of interconnected consciousness becomes susceptible to deletions and mutations. For this concept, I was influenced by two books by Blake Crouch – Recursion, in which people are afflicted with a mysterious “false memory syndrome,” and Dark Matter, where the protagonist, Jason, lands in alternate timelines of his own life and ultimately faces off with these other versions of himself. These stories are mind-bending and confusing. Reality is not fixed; memories are not real. Other universes and timelines exist. This idea of shifting realities, alternative timelines, and disparate memories added another psychological layer to my dystopian fantasy – Is this really happening? – as I crafted this batch of songs.
The cathartic release I felt in making this album was immense. I indulged and then released everything that swirled in my mind and threatened to overwhelm me. I was reminded that, after all, emotional survival is the reason why artists and writers do what we do.
Station Eleven, Recursion, and Dark Matter all end on hopeful, redemptive notes. Lost World ultimately ends with a glimmer of hope too. Amidst all the darkness and confusion, there’s light and redemption, even if it looks different from what we’d expect. I eventually found myself writing about a new, brighter world emerging from the wreckage in the song “Quiet and Bright.” And I wrote “Sweet as You” about my love as a mother, which is so much bigger than anything I ever could have imagined.