One of the great things about this lovely song is that it veers dangerously close to being a bit silly. And that’s mainly, and most obviously, due to Newsom’s occasionally irritating little girl voice (or ‘witch child’ voice, as it’s been called). Yet it’s precisely that voice that helps to make it so moving: because it’s tackling a melody that’s so sublime, so perfect. The slight awkwardness just makes it all the more heroic.
The words, a happy mix of banality and profundity, are made to work very tightly within the melody. I’d guess that Newsom came up with the tune first and then simply made the words fit. I love that. I don’t think we hear it often enough in songs.
In truth, she could probably sing anything and the song would still work. Maybe. But because the melody is so delightful, the words she uses acquire extra depth. Like, for instance:
“Later, I stumbled to my bed,
All alone in the branches
I laid in the dark
Thinking about all of my friends
And their changes.”
Actually, that’s quite wonderful on its own terms.
I tend not to pay too much attention to lyrics. I agree with John Lennon: with music it’s the whole thing, the whole sound, that does it for me. In this case, the whole sound basically amounts to Newsom’s voice and her fairly minimalist harp accompaniment that subtly nudges the melody along.
Esmé is a perfect early morning song for when you’re feeling slightly hazy, slightly sad and perhaps don’t quite know why.
It’s also just utterly lovely.
* Available on: Have One On Me (2010, Drag City Records).