Evocation is a powerful force, even if it can be intensely particular at times. The conjuring of a familiar feeling from your youth; the sudden remembering of a smell from a location you had forgotten about; echoes of an album you immersed yourself in years ago. With music, all it can take is a word, a melody, or even just the tone of an instrument. My Little Dark is all evocation, an album that thrives from invoking the sounds of others that came before it.
My Little Dark is the debut album from Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist singer, songwriter, and producer Melissa Harris, working under the name Born Days. She spent years crafting it, creating through tumultuous times. Partially written as a healing tool during her time as an outpatient during a mental health crisis, and partially in the middle of the Arizona desert to escape the paper-thin walls of her Chicago apartment and the city sounds she became acutely sensitive to, My Little Dark is a personal world. It’s insular and self-contained; even though it draws inspiration from many genres (darkwave, dreampop, shoegaze), it’s very much its own individual soundworld.
Moulding her own dusty and dimly lit dystopia, Harris swims about in a world of anxious thoughts, self-doubt, and gloomy pessimism. Like with her two previous EPs (2017’s Be True and 2019’s Where We Live), on My Little Dark she’s using her music as a tool to process memories and reconnect with the world around her. On “Dreams” she’s walking about in sub zero temperatures, half hoping to turn to ice among the skeletal and bare trees, while on the pining “Ganymede” she’s calling out to the titular icy moon of Jupiter to “please release me”. “How To Disappear” has her aching that she has “nothing left / except a heart that’s broke and bent” and wishes to evaporate into a vapour cloud. Apart from the soft declarations on penultimate track “Destroyer” (“You can’t fuck with me now / This life is in my hands”), joyousness isn’t exactly hiding between the lines or amidst the chatter of drum machines or the chilly glow of synths.
That isn’t a fault with the album though. One of its best features is that it’s a contained dingy place that, if you are in the right mood, is the exact place you want to swim about in for 50 minutes. My Little Dark thrives in a setting that matches the music; the album practically comes alive in the dark, quiet hours of a winter night when the streets are empty and there’s a chill in the air. The kind of time where you find yourself being introspective and reckoning with being a collection of atoms in a huge universe, as Harris does herself does on the dusky “Bird Song”.
While it’s hard to fault it in this respect, Harris’ fondness for sizeable track lengths does leave a certain wanting for a couple of snappier moments (most tracks are at least four minutes, and a handful spread into six minute territory). It’s an immersive album, but you can actively feel it soaking up your time, especially come the second half of the album. This is Harris’ creation, but the record is at its best when it evokes others. Opening track “Enemy” twinkles with forlorn melancholy akin to Swedish synth-pop duo Pallers while the following title track grabs the eerie electronic tones from The Knife’s “The Captain”. It makes for a strong beginning, but also an opening door into Harris’ darklit landscapes.
Other listeners will find other reference points (the gloopy, molasses tone of the synths of “Deep Empty (DMT Feelings)”, the washed out ambient backdrop of “Over Again”, or the alien-like quality of her voice on “Bird Song”), as that’s Harris’ best unspoken skill. She’s evocative, but like an angler fish (or with her sweet, often ethereal voice perhaps a siren is more appropriate), the familiarity is just a lure. The shadowlands of My Little Dark await for those who go for the bait.