My Singing Voice is Gone!— An Exploration into Spirit They’re Gone Spirit They’ve Vanished
There are many unique features of childhood that never come back afterwards. Normal at the time, they are forever stolen away, too late to appreciate their beauty.
Spirit portrays these lost traits of youth — the innocence, the mysticism, the naive fear — and it does it so well that the listener almost feels like they still have them. For an hour, they’re ran through these impressions of adolescence. It seems as if everything is as it was. However, they are reminded that it is fleeting; rushes of anxious noise repeatedly steal their safety. Spirit exists in this cycle of purity and corruption. They run into the forest with an imaginary friend; only for them to leave, once again.
April and the Phantom
From my understanding, ’’April and the Phantom’’ is about a child, named April, escaping her situation through an imaginary friend, who she has named Phantom. It’s unknown if her home life is that bad, or if it’s just her perception of it, but here it doesn’t really matter. My focus is on two things: the uniquely adolescent phenomenon of making up imaginary friends, and how Spirit handles this theme.
I think that most mental processes, ideas, and reactions are not limited to age. An adult stubs their toe, a kid stubs their toe— they’re both going to complain. An elderly person gets money, a kid gets money— they’re both going to be excited. However, the concept of imaginary friends is actually something that breaks this, it’s completely limited to youth. They can be caused through many things: simple joy, boredom, or something worse. I’m not here to look into the causes for children though, I’m more interested in how they are only something that children experience. For a normal adult, they will never make up an imaginary friend again. It’s understandable, but it’s still extremely interesting. It’s an entire psychological idea restricted to an age group. This is probably a result of the societal taboo around them; even for children, they are seen as a bad thing. As Francis P. Church of The New York Sun wrote in response to an 1897 youth’s question about Santa Claus, ’’[t]hey have been affected by the s[k]epticism of a s[k]eptical age’’. Maybe we undervalue this unique use of imagination. While unrealistic, it provides valuable self—conversation. I’m not saying to go and imagine a big bear in your room right now, but what do we limit with our hatred of imagination? At the very least, it’s an interesting thing to consider.
On ’’April and the Phantom’’, Avey Tare (aka Dave Portner) somehow taps into this exact wonder. At the age of 19, he chooses to write about a far—gone concept, something most people wouldn’t even consider writing a song about. Furthermore, he chooses his sounds perfectly. Whistling synths and hurried guitar dance around his lyrics. A favorite moment of mine, is actually the 15 seconds of noise right after the start of the song. Before the escapism, one must understand the hurt causing it. The noise sounds nothing like the beautiful sounds in the rest of the song. It’s the noise of hurting. This causational pain is only explained briefly at the beginning of the lyrics. April tells her mother she is ’’not afraid of dying in the bath’’ and asks her mother ’’if she slept with strangers’’. Then, something comes into the picture. The first mention of her new friend makes his purpose very clear: ’’Phantom was the bright way out’’. April lives through Phantom, in freedom. They run into the woods together, they hide across the river, they plan about buying land. And so, the issues are not mentioned again. That is, until— the quiet outro of the song. A short, acapella cry, ’’Kid has got no friends…’’ repeats, ending the song. What I did not mention, is that the Phantom actually dies soon before this (Important side note: It is implied that his death is caused by April aging.) April seems ok at first (’’Everything’s just alright with me…’’), but this harrowing return to reality shows that is not the case. As a result, she is thrown back into her life’s problems. She is forced to face these issues alone, as the Phantom has gone.
Spirit’s Auditory Roles
Alright, here’s a cheesy way to say this. Let’s take all the moving parts of Spirit’s sound, and use that to note the ’roles’ that they all play. Most of the instruments Portner plays (guitars, keyboards, etc.) have a beautiful sound. They work together and back every song’s lyrics. My favorite being the synths, which seem to have a whimsical quality about themselves in every song here. They in specific give that childlike feeling. Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox) brings the drums. They’re frenzied and disorderly. They signify the quick and excitable pace of childhood. Whenever they’re a part of the song, they’re always…doing something. And it’s always something new! Spirit would feel completely different without them. But lastly, there is an extremely important element I haven’t mentioned. It turns people away from the album. People say it gives them headaches after one listen. Some wish it wasn’t part of the album at all. It disturbs many of the songs, even making up the entirety of others (’’Untitled’’, for example). However, I want to make a case for it. I’m talking about the noise. Some don’t understand its purpose, but I see it as playing the unique role of showing the impermanence of childhood. See, Portner could’ve made the entire album without any of this noise. It would’ve sent the listener back to the safety of childhood, without ever breaking it. And it would have been beautiful! But part of understanding the place of youth, is knowing that it doesn’t last. Portner understood this, and that’s why there are these occasional returns to reality. The noise represents this pain of the ’’real world’’. The listener is shown the safe world of childhood, but they can’t lie in it forever. If Spirit did not do so well at returning the listener to this past, the loss of it would not be near as impactful. To fully understand the tragedy that is losing youth, one must live in it again.
My Singing Voice is Gone! — Conclusion
On Spirit, Portner does the impossible. He truly sends the listener back to youth. And he does it with the viewpoint of someone who’s lost it. Yes, everyone loses it, but most of us could not understand it at such a high level to make such a pure return to it as Spirit is. At the end of the heartbreaking closer ’’Alvin Row’’, Portner uses a sample that perfectly encompasses the overall feeling of the album. A child has lost their singing voice. They don’t seem too concerned at first, but when they realize that it really could be gone, they exclaim in fear- ’’My singing voice is gone!’’ That fearful expression represents Spirit as a whole. Our singing voice is given back throughout the experience, but then it’s gone. This duality makes the album a masterful work, conveying the beauty of youth, something so seemingly inaccessible and in the past, but then stealing it away, once again. The Phantom is gone. Our singing voice is gone. All of it is gone, but maybe it doesn’t have to be.
October 30th, 2021
Francis P. Church. ’’Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.’’ The New York Sun, rediscovered by Stormfax. 21 Sep. 1897. www.stormfax.com/virginia.htm. Accessed 30 Oct. 2021
Avey Tare and Panda Bear (later classified under Animal Collective). Spirit They’re Gone Spirit They’ve Vanished. Animal. 31 Jul. 2000