Female Ferocity: Spotlight on Aldous Harding's "The Barrel"

Cr: Antonio Olmos/The Observer via https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/nov/17/strange-world-of-aldous-harding-driven-by-fear-interview
Featured Image Credit: Antonio Olmos/The Observer via The Guardian

New Zealand singer-songwriter, Aldous Harding, has become a top choice for my daily playlist. The good people over at 4AD described her best, “An artist of rare calibre, Aldous Harding does more than sing; she conjures a singular intensity. Her body and face a weapon of theatre…every note, word and arrangement posed with intellect and inventiveness.” (Read the whole article here.)

Aldous Harding in “The Barrel” cr: n.z. musician

“The Barrel” was my introduction to Aldous Harding. Bewitched by her presence and lyrics, I replayed the song several times, and was enveloped into a perturbing story that ends in liberation.

Mad Max: Fury Road via Giphy
Quote by yeoys wolf, but I also rec “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

When I find something I like, I’m known to frequent https://songmeanings.com/, and read the comment section. The unifying energy of music is unparalleled. Abundant interpretations originate from the same story—all unique. The tune we hum is the same. To me, “The Barrel” mirrors survivors of cruel and horrifying relationships, reflecting the image of a wiser self who owns their worth and is not mislead.

Harding’s official video for “The Barrel” begins with the viewer traveling through a tunnel to the present display. “Display” seems to be the appropriate word here—a calculated arrangement of objects whose objective is a picturesque showcase, regardless of how disturbing the content may be. This “tunnel” honestly reminded me of a human’s intestinal tract, our gut. This seems appropriate as the entire song carries the main character’s instinct throughout. Her narrative is soon revealed through striking metaphors.

Twenty seconds into the song, your own organs become victims of violent battering. (Think heart and lungs.) If you’ve watched Blue Valentine, or read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, you know the feeling.

Cr: https://pikdo.biz/
“Your heart is my piñata.” -Chuck Palahniuk

The lyrics are as follows:

I feel your love
I feel time is up
When I was a child, I never knew enough
What that do to me?
The wave of love is a transient hunt
Water’s the shell and we are the nut
But I saw a hand arch out of the barrel

As I stated before, this is my interpretation, not the ultimate truth.

My book collection provides this evidence: I am the moth where disturbing is the flame—against better judgment. So, a phrase such as, “the wave of love is a transient hunt,” immediately piques my interest. Combine this phrase with the idea of childhood innocence and naivety, in which the terrors of the world (and know-how in reading people) are lacking. From this approach, the scene suddenly transforms into a Nat Geo observation, a brief running-from, where the baby elephant doesn’t make it…The sequence of descriptors aren’t any less horrifying. Without a shell, there’s little protection from being chewed up and digested. Or, perhaps being hardened to one’s environment, but drowning in it nonetheless. Don’t worry. It’s not as bleak as it sounds. Resistance sparks in the final line, “But I saw a hand arch out of the barrel.”

Ball of Fire (1941)
Professor Potts: Eight pushovers, like shooting fish in a barrel.
Sugarpuss O’Shea: I didn’t want you to get it this way, not right in the face. I’ve been sitting here trying to write you a letter. Here are all my excuses.
(Hands Potts a letter that’s blank)
Professor Potts: The handwriting of a…what would be your word for it?
Sugarpuss O’Shea: A tramp.

In “The Barrel,” our main character witnesses danger lurking in the water. I feel like this danger can be viewed in two ways: a hand trying to pull one into a disgusting game, or another’s failed attempt to escape it. Still, her wiser self sees it. That seed of knowledge has been planted.

Look at all the peaches
How do you celebrate?
Can’t appear inside of nowhere
It’s already dead
I know you have the dove
I’m not getting wet
Looks like a date is set
Show the ferret to the egg
I’m not getting led along

We’ve reached the chorus! Yup, still disturbing. If you’re listening on Pandora, P.J. Harvey’s “Down By The Water” will likely be the next song selection…

Cr: Ranker

This is probably the vision the Greene’s once held of their (beloved) farm pre-zombie apocalypse on The Walking Dead. Imagine living among an edenesque orchard that produces a plentiful amount of peach trees every year. Beauty. Wealth. Gorgeous fruit, ripe for harvesting…It would be worth celebrating if it actually existed. The promise of a fruitful life does not exist with monsters. Once our character realizes such a life is not possible with the antagonist, she moves on to what needs to be done. She lets go. Finally, empowerment reaches down with real, loving arms and rescues her.

Aldous Harding originally dreamed of being a veterinarian, so I find it interesting that a lot of animal references end up in her work. Ferrets eat eggs. “Getting wet” could be literal and sexual. She’s not falling in, and it doesn’t turn her on. Instead, she decides to be done away with whatever would allow that relationship to form, or continue developing (hence the ferret metaphor), rather than ending up as another fish in the antagonist’s abusive perversion.

Halfway through the music video, a terrifying face emerges. It’s shocking and haunting when you first see it. Then again, when someone’s mask finally falls away and you see their true face, a dangerous situation for what it really is, can that not also be terrifying? The main character is already aware of the game. She sees Bluebeard for who they really are.

I rushed in to hold down your page
And now I sleep ‘side words you do not read with me
I hear a song from inside the maze, the very one you made

In unhealthy relationships, it’s easy to sacrifice ourselves for another’s story. We know what real love involves. Unfortunately, our partner does not. Maybe they never have. We postpone our own dreams to uphold another’s.

via Giphy

I’ve known narcissists in my life. They plead for help in managing their responsibilities. They’ve drained empathy, time, and resources from other people. Narcissists are also known as energy vampires for a reason. They take without giving back.

Gotta love Bill Nighy, Underworld, via Giphy

Our main character is rushing to save the antagonist’s story without a second thought to her own. Like a true narcissist, they don’t share their story with her. They want her close, but on their own terms. When they need her, not vice versa. As for hearing music inside a maze…Children of the Corn anyone? Saw? It’s like a signature piece in horror films! Hell, even Daryl Dixon was forced to listen to “Easy Street” by The Collapsable Hearts Club, courtesy of Negan’s men. It’s almost like our main character is realizing how severe her situation has become. Her life is now at stake. As a survivor of abuse, this cannot ring more true to me.

You shook at the ivory mantle
As a poet, I knew to be gentle
When you have a child, so begins the braiding
And in that braid you stay

Life As We Know It via Wifflegif

Here’s where I became somewhat confused, so I’m going with my best guess, which is to say that a confrontation of some sort takes place. According to Dictionary.com, a mantle can mean an important role or responsibility that is passed between people, such as father to son. The antagonist is a coward, and a coward would shake with fear when faced with inherent responsibility. Adulthood and/or parenthood can be daunting. Our main character knows how to converse with the antagonist, while maintaining her safety. She chooses her words carefully. It’s unclear if the child is theirs, or if it’s the antagonist who has become a parent. Either way, the antagonist will be forced to face the consequences of their actions.

The chorus then repeats, leading to the retelling of the lyrics—

The wave of love is a transient hunt
Water’s the shell and we are the nut

However, a new lyric emerges, hinting what the antagonist’s fate will be.

But I saw a match struck outside the barrel

If you lead a destructive life, it’s quite possible your own destruction will ensue. It’s unsurprising the antagonist’s destruction will likely come from their own doing. In the end, our main character has freed herself from the relationship. New beginnings are on their way. Her dance of liberation couldn’t arrive soon enough.

Ibiza, via giphy

It’s already dead
I know you have the dove
I’m not getting wet
(The barrel)
(The barrel)
Looks like a date is set
Show the ferret to the egg
I’m not getting led along

(The barrel)