Song of the day #4: Ivy Mairi - “Past Life”
A glistening, shimmering pop song that grabs hold of my pleasure centres and never lets go.
Those of you who know me well know that I virtually never shut up about how much I love rap music, and it’s also true that soul music and R&B music get a fair amount of my attention, but once those genres have been accounted for, there’s nothing I love quite so much as an especially pleasurable pop song. I belong to the Maura Johnston school that says great pop songcraft is great art as such, and that condescending to and disparaging pop music for being pop music, rather than making distinctions based on one’s subjective estimation of the quality of a given artist’s work instead of reflexively disdaining the genre they’re operating in, is as asinine and disreputable as when the genre being so targeted is rap music or country music. We all have our personal aesthetic tastes and predilections; it’s true that this series is unlikely to feature any metal or industrial music, for example, and may not feature very much of the canonized classic rock of the late 1970s through the whole of the 1980s, simply because that shit ain’t my bag. No new wave, very little punk, only a few hard rock songs, very little experimental electronic music. I would, ideally, like to provide the readers of this newsletter with a broad survey of songs I love in all the genres I care about, but I make no bones about the likelihood that I’ll wind up excluding genres that generally ain’t in my wheelhouse but in which, pace those who’d dismiss them entirely or look down their noses at me for not rocking with ‘em, I don’t doubt there’s been a fuckton of fruitful endeavour over the decades. The difference is that reflexive and unthinking dismissal of things that are not to one’s personal taste gets my goat, which leads me to experience consternation when I encounter people who don’t think a song like this one is a good work of art.
Ivy Mairi is a very gifted songwriter and vocalist from an area of Toronto called Ward’s Island; she transitioned from making (very good!) folk-flavoured music to candy-coloured studio pop when she linked up with the tremendously talented producer Kieran Adams around the year 2019. All five songs on the resultant EP, Polarity, are worth hearing; I’m particularly drawn to “All Around Me” and “Strange Love”, both of which I would say rank alongside this one as unqualified triumphs. But although both of those two bedazzled me more than this one did at first, this one has proven to be the most enduringly pleasurable of the lot for me. I think the reason why is because the production strikes me as miraculously gorgeous and evocative, but it’s also true that I find Ivy’s vocal performance alluring and sexy – she puts her ankles in the damn thing. The fact that I know Ivy personally (although not terribly well – it’s highly unlikely that she would remember or recognize me) means that I feel like I’m accompanying a friend on a journey, and although the theme – “Here I am, experiencing the sudden rush of a love affair like no other, a love affair that feels like it was meant to be and has been written in the stars since the beginning of the universe” – is time-honoured in the utmost, this joint feels so emotionally authentic (full-up with Ivy’s raw carnal longing and dazed, wonderstruck joy), and (crucially) is so jam-packed with beautiful and memorable melodies, that it works like gangbusters for me every time.
Ivy Mairi does not quite mesmerize me like Carly Rae Jepsen does – this latter, much (but not all) of whose music I adore with an unbridled passion, would get my vote as the current reigning doyenne of sugar-rush pop music. But she damn sure comes close, and to any of you who like pop music, I couldn’t possibly more enthusiastically recommend this. Polarity, the EP that contains not just “Past Life” but also the equally superb “All Around Me” and “Strange Love”, is on Spotify here and Bandcamp here; the songs can also be accessed on YouTube.