Time is a tricky thing. It spins effortless wonders to convince us that things only flow in one direction — that our formative experiences lie sleeping in youthful days, branded upon our beating hearts like the aging wrinkles of our skin. And sure, there’s a strong case for it when you consider that most things along the way can’t be undone, because time knows better than that. But for every irreversible consequence, at some point we’re sure to round the bend and revisit the old feelings that once felt, for better or worse, completely inescapable. By will or by weakness, by physics or by fate. Because when it comes down to it, time is really just a big, flat fucking circle. When we long to be seen, we’re often faced with our own reflections. When we crave growth, we’re reminded of where we’ve come from. On Maybe I Will See You at the End of the World, Sydney Sprague finds herself caught amidst this phenomenon, crafting a series of introspective pop rock singalongs to make new waves in the struggle to navigate the ones she’s spent her life stirring up.
The early album single, “Steve”, offers a panoramic view of this, as Sprague begins by picking at old scars in a biting verse: “You had my heart / you ate it like a peach in the summer / You spit it out / and said I’m not as sweet as another.” Driven by thumping drums and a bouncy two chord rhythm, she spends little time lamenting before melting into a pre-chorus of suspension and twinkling guitars: “Can I get what I want, only once? / Will it ever be enough?” It’s a perfect one-two punch, a vulnerable plunge into her past, which inevitably comes with the territory of reckoning with her present. That is, before performing an eruptive heel turn of a chorus, vowing to “kill it all, just because / leave my old love in the dust”. It’s dealt with an air of turbulence reminiscent of the first time your car starting shaking, hitting 90mph on an open road with Hotel Paper threatening to decimate your speakers. Emotions running hot like the friction of tires on the pavement — not unlike the Phoenix desert Sprague hails from. Because sometimes the only thing you really need is to just be somewhere, anywhere else.
In fact, this type of scathing finds its way through much of Maybe, bleeding through songs as though the stains were her very fingerprints. On the arresting mid-album re-ignition, “Staircase Failure”, Sprague employs a towering drum loop and guitar combo that demands intrigue — just before drawing back to deliver an instant classic AIM away message from a separate, but similar timeline: “I’m descending into hell / it’s the way you fuck my head up.” Elsewhere, she debates the merits of object permanence — the belief that objects continue to exist even when we can’t see or hear them — on an aptly titled, bubbly earworm of the same name. Amidst sparkling guitar melodies and palm muted major chords, Sprague (accompanied by the magical Danielle Durack) observes the dreary, two-toned gloom of the loneliness felt in the absence of a loved one, bitterly confessing: “When I see couples in love / I hope they die.” But don’t worry, she assures us she’s not the violent type. “I just need someone around to hold me.”
Which is to say, that Maybe isn’t without its strokes of sweetness. The stripped back late album stunner, “What You Want”, sees a delicately strummed electric guitar, decorated with nothing but the occasional tinkering of a faint piano and Sprague’s dangling plea for love. “If you weren’t the kind worth chasing / I wouldn’t be chasing you.” Moments like this beg to steal your heart, bedazzled with authenticity and brought to life by the sorcery at Seattle’s legendary Hall of Justice. Produced by Sam Rosson, this album receives the same treatment he’s become increasingly effective at accomplishing during his time sitting behind the boards for indie darlings such as Death Cab For Cutie, Noah Gundersen, and Great Grandpa. It’s this vintage-but-modern feel that highlights Sprague’s undeniable X-factor identified earlier in her career, working as an enhancement filter for hard hitting storytelling devices like “Quitter” — where she gently croons a Third Eye Blind-laden hook before widening into a withering chorus. “Did I pass you by / somewhere on Greenway last night? / Did you see me screaming out the window / about to lose my mind?” She pinpoints her persistence to a spot on the map, while an intimate acoustic backdrop sways along to pair best with your favorite glass of red.
And really, “Quitter” hits concisely on the interwoven theme found at the crux of Maybe I Will See You at the End of the World. Understanding the notion that our experience of time isn’t always linear. That to revisit old ghosts is less about being stifled by them, and more about processing them any way you can — be it screaming, laughing, crying, or setting fire to the world around you. Sometimes that means hitting a big, long road with a pale redhead and a black coffee, embracing the grief in the back seat as a part of yourself to continually untangle. Wrestling with the knowledge that you’ll eventually come back ‘round the bend to read aloud familiar exit signs with erratic gusts of breath: love, hurt, recollection, and the experience of growth. Sprague says herself, pinned between an atmospheric, ping-ponging tonal hum on the album’s title track, that “Maybe the time was just not right / Give a little space to clear my mind”, owning that these exits are often just cleverly disguised pit stops to help us reveal a bit more of ourselves. And sometimes it means moving on with reckless abandon — to ignore the deceitful self assurance that any of us have a permanent grip on ourselves. Allowing yourself to stumble through the woes of life, hoping that one day you’ll be seen in all your unbridled glory, where else, but at the end of the world.