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Siv Jakobsen, 'Blue'

The Norwegian singer-songwriter Siv Jakobsen has always had a knack for amiable storytelling, but her pretty, plainspoken singing is deceptive across "Blue." A highlight from her new album Gardening, it has a stunning arrangement of brass, harp and strings — the sort of atmospheric bliss you could spend an afternoon luxuriating in. In reality, Jakobsen is revealing how an abusive relationship can slowly and suddenly feel inescapable. When speaking as the man, her soft voice highlights the manipulativeness of his excuses ("I didn't mean to lose my cool / I didn't mean for my fist to leave you blue"). When she takes on the role of a narrator, she sounds like a mother imparting wisdom to her child via bedtime story. But there's no chance for the victim to speak, and that absence weighs heavily throughout "Blue." The subtext is clear: Abusers silence others to maintain control, to make harrowing situations seem normal. The cognitive dissonance that arises when hearing Jakobsen's dark lyrics and beautiful instrumentation is stark and excruciating.

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Joshua Minsoo Kim