EP Review: "Soft Animals, Strong Chemicals" - Meredith Rounsley
I consider myself to be a restless spirit. Imagine my shock when I discovered that the denotation of a restless spirit – the literal definition – is someone that’s continuously unhappy and dissatisfied. Aside from mild irritability when my caffeine addiction isn’t fed, I’m relatively happy-go-lucky. But how did I wind up misconstruing what a restless spirit is, and in turn, misrepresenting myself? Well, I’ve been using the connation of the phrase: the subjective interpretation. Take the word sick – depending on the context in which it’s used, you could be feeling ill (denotation) or find something/someone fascinating (connotation). As a connotation, a restless spirit is someone that lives life in motion: they rise against social conventions and forever seek to expand their horizons. And I think Meredith Rounsley’s latest EP Soft Animals, Strong Chemicals flawlessly encapsulates the life of a restless spirit through a connotative lens.
*Chocolate satin drapery courtesy of FreePik, with Soft Animals, Strong Chemicals' tracklist featured.*
Meredith Rounsley is an indie-pop singer and songwriter from Salisbury, Maryland.
Early influences of soul and contemporary pop on the songstress have helped create a discography filled with whimsical wanderlust. Shortly after moving to Nashville’s ever emergent and diverse music scene, Rounsley wrapped up and delivered her first EP Ember in 2021. The four-track project greets listeners with overwhelming warmth throughout our artist’s confessional-styled lyricism. Now with her sophomore EP Soft Animals, Strong Chemicals, Rounsley seeks to defy her own musical limitations while providing a tender introspection on existing as a restless spirit.
Rounsley kicks off her EP with “Steady”, an optimistic anthem centered on the exact moment you piece together your life. Despite the tenacity of restless spirits, they struggle with channeling it towards efforts that provide direction. Our songstress depicts how this can leave us feeling aimless and craving balance – seeking out reassurance from outside sources. Through a lullaby-inspired musical arrangement and vocals filled with hope, Rounsley advises listeners to turn inwards; “feel all [your] emotions / instead of trying to hold them in”. By doing so, we can reconnect with ourselves and start steering life in a direction that suits our needs.
“Something New” offers listeners a judgment-free zone as they daydream and reminiscence about extraordinary adventures alongside our artist. With everyday life we settle into a routine out of convenience. Routines establish repetition: a sentiment met with dread by restless spirits because it opens the floodgates to mundanity. Thumping chords and drumbeats not only drive this single but motivate listeners to search for fresh experiences. Rounsley loans her voice to this timeless desire while also indicating of vices’ inability to recapture this feeling long-term. This all leads to one burning question:
“what do [we] have to do to feel something new”?
Under My Hands
Despite their hunger for new experiences, restless spirits always seem to find themselves hung up on one person. “Under My Hands” is a wistful ballad about falling in lust with that exact person. And I say lust because while it’s acknowledged that this connection is filled with “electricity”, there’s a “rehearsed restraint” due to its “ephemeral” nature. Rounsley manages to create an atmosphere that showcases the depth of the emotional dichotomy occurring; from pulsing rhythms to intricate but hushed guitar strings. This single also magnifies the (often) unfortunate duality of being a restless spirit: fiercely passionate but fearful of deeper commitment.
While striving for novel experiences and exhilarating connections, restless spirits can find themselves in bouts of self-doubt. It happens to the best of us. But “Trying” is the encouraging battle cry we all need to push ourselves past uncertainties. Our songstress opens this single with resonant guitar chords as she shares how doubts have kept her in a state of stagnancy and self-sabotage. The tempo’s steady rise towards the chorus symbolizes both the mobilization that’s required and its speed. Overcoming a slump is a slow process that entails smaller accomplishments to be made – like researching “advice” from the “internet and articles” – before we “break a wall”. A blossoming chorus redirects our attention to the bigger idea here: the fact that conscious efforts are being made in the face of ambivalence. Over the song’s duration, listeners witness Rounsley transform into a folk hero that exudes grit and is driven by ambition. And now she calls upon others to take the very same plunge she took.
Soft Animals, Strong Chemicals
On top of “Soft Animals, Strong Chemicals” sharing its name with the EP, it can also serve as the personification of Mary Oliver’s poem "Wild Geese". The poem is a reminder of the natural world’s continuity while we as people experience a range of emotions within our inner world; if we imaginatively engage with our surroundings, we can find comfort within ourselves and the vast planet we inhabit. But most importantly, "Wild Geese" is about celebrating the experiences we’ve had thus far that have helped us achieve a greater sense of belonging – all of which Rounsley captures beautifully with this single. Acoustic chords carry a delicate folk melody that mimics twinkling stars in dark skies. As the melody sweeps over listeners, Rounsley gets vulnerable and shares the different experiences she’s had. With every passing experience, whether savory or unpalatable, she “gave away … pieces of the old [her]”. As opposed to mourning over these pieces, our artist is treating it as a rite of passage. Even encouraging listeners to "try everything" if they can. And although there was some running from certain memories, Rounsley figured out “you can’t erase them, [you] gotta face them” eventually. There must be a willingness to surrender yourself to all experiences to grow. Only then can we begin to develop a sense of belonging.
Woman I Wish I Was
The EP concludes with “Woman I Wish I Was” which builds upon “Soft Animals, Strong Chemicals”. Whereas the last single recognizes past experiences that have gotten us to where we are now, “Woman I Wish I Was” focuses on the future self – the version of ourselves we aspire to be. Restless spirits have incredible vision. These are people that are constantly imagining the future and determining whether it’s realistically obtainable. And I think “Woman I Wish I Was” demonstrates tangibility through consistency. Experimental synths open the single and return for each verse where our songstress lists attributes she wished she possessed. But sporadic rock outs temporarily bring us out of our reveries to emphasize the gravity of the longing experienced here. But more significantly, they illustrate how showing up for ourselves can help us be the version we’re envisioning; no longer making it feel like a game of “catch-up”. Rounsley’s remarkable sincerity simultaneously makes us fall in love with her and the person we’re becoming.
Soft Animals, Strong Chemicals not only embraces what it means to be a restless spirit in modernity but explores how possessing it allows an individual to create a space for themselves. The creation of this space occurs both externally and internally – all of which can be identified throughout the EP. Externally we foster this space by pushing ourselves past our boundaries to create novel experiences that otherwise could not have unfolded. While internally, this space is nurtured when we’re vulnerable enough to admit that we yearn for something beyond familiarity. With this EP, Meredith Rounsley invites listeners to contemplate how they’ve made space for themselves as she carves out a permanent space for herself within pop as an essential voice of endearment.
Soft Animals, Strong Chemicals released yesterday, November 10th, on all streaming services. But Nashville-bound fans have the chance see Rounsley perform the EP live at her release show! The EP Release Show is next Thursday, November 16th at The Basement; doors for the performance open at 8:30 P.M. for 21+ attendees and tickets can be found here. If you find yourself bound elsewhere, though, virtual love in the form of streams, likes, and follows is just as welcomed.
Written by Giavanna Gradaille
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