The past couple years have left me all a little more fragile than I’d like to admit. Intermittent periods of prolonged Isolation coupled with a barrage of terrible news and relentless media has shaken my sensitive nervous system. Talking with my friends I know I’m not the only one experiencing this feeling of inner frailty. Joy Downer seems to have a sense of this as well. The Los Angeles singer has followed up her beautifully innovative 2020 early pandemic release Paper Moon with a new single Chain Reaction. It’s a timely commentary that speaks to how the line between love and the loss of self is obscured by the constant hum of cultural anxiety that vibrates at an inescapable frequency.
It’s difficult to be of utmost service to those close to us (or the humanity in general) when we’re struggling with our own internal broken pieces. In her press release for Chain Reaction, Downer likens it to the deployment of oxygen masks on an airplane. When the emotional urge is always to help your loved ones first before putting on your own mask despite knowing you’ll be of no use to them if you’re passed out next to them.
Downer is joined on vocals on this song by her friend Beck, courtesy of Capitol Records. You can see him playing bass in her band during a 2021 performance on James Corden along with Lauren Brown who also returns to play drums and percussion on this track. Even Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready makes an appearance on guitar to fill out the star studded line up.
It might be Brown’s tom heavy Mo Tucker beat or the bell-like resonance in the guitars but on first listen I instantly thought of the Velvet Underground song Sunday Morning. Chain Reaction embodies a similar sense of shimmering melancholia that exposes the invisible cracks in our brittle psyches. It’s less forceful than her previous songs on Paper Moon perhaps acknowledging the collective weariness we’re all experiencing.
The simplicity of this song is its power using the timeless metaphor of a structure whose integrity is crumbling from within. Downer and Beck approach this song delicately and allow the space between their breaths to effectively convey the fragility of the content. It’s a vulnerability that is often difficult to put into word but she expresses it perfectly in the line, “The damage in you is causing cracks in me”. It’s truthful and direct.
Compassion and empathy are beautiful attributes that make life not only bearable but rewarding. Finding the internal centering point of emotional strength capable of bearing the weight of another’s pain is the cornerstone of compassion. Joy Downer has created a musical keystone to hold us all intact in this extended period of uncertainty.
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Find Chain Reaction on our New Indie Music Spotify playlist!