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Title: ‘Artifice’
Where to find it: ‘Tremors’ (2014, 4AD)
Performed by: SOHN
Words by: Christopher Taylor

I just saw SOHN perform in Washington over the weekend, and I thought he was brilliant. Of course his megahit ‘Artifice’ was perfection.

Sometimes the simplest songs are best. As such, this analysis is going to be shorter than most.

First, the words:

Verse 1
Is it over?
Did it end while I was gone?
‘Cause my shoulders
They couldn’t hold that weight for long
And it all just feels the same

Chorus
Somebody better let me know my name
Before I give myself away
Somebody better show me how I feel
Cause I know I’m not at the wheel

Verse 2
Is it over?
Did the last thread come undone?
‘Cause I told ya
I didn’t wanna hurt no one
But the faces are all the same

Chorus (3x)
Somebody better let me know my name
Before I give myself away
Somebody better show me how I feel
Cause I know I’m not at the wheel

Somebody better let me know my name
Before I give myself away
Somebody better show me how I feel
Cause I know I’m not at the wheel

Somebody better let me know my name
Before I give myself away
Somebody better show me how I feel
Cause I know I’m not at the wheel

Now, the analysis:

As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, the word artifice means clever or artful skill, an ingenious device or expedient, an artful stratagem, or false or insincere behaviour. I’d go with the latter for the purpose of this song analysis: it’s a simple song, but it says so much in few words about a relationship whose “last thread [has] come undone.” In verse 1, the song indicates the protagonist was gone for some time, suggesting he has a job where travel is common and often. The relationship must have also been fraught with weighty issues (“’cause my shoulders / they couldn’t hold that weight for long“) and upon his return from being away, he’s questioning if the relationship is done.

Before he can ruminate too much though, the chorus starts in. “Somebody better let me know my name / before I give myself away” bears the suggestion that he’s not sure who he is. This is really interesting: was he away trying to find himself, so the “he” that he is upon his return someone he doesn’t recognise? Or is the woman he’s talking to painting a picture of him that he does not agree with? Certainly, the couple is at odds here. “Somebody better show me how I feel / ’cause I know I’m not at the wheel” is curious as well. Does he not know how he feels because he’s confused? He’s been socked in the stomach when he returns, only to find the relationship he’s put so much into is over? At the end of verse 1, he insists, “and it all just feels the same,” as if the revelation has come out of nowhere.

The important bit to the chorus is “’cause I know I’m not at the wheel“: he knows he’s not in control of the situation. And as much as we would like to exert 100% of the control in any given situation, it’s never 100% for us to decide on what happens. There are other players. In a relationship, it takes two to tango, and not being in control and the other person have some of that control, both things make him uncomfortable. But he’s admitted it! Admitting your feelings, much like alcoholics at an AA support group, is half the battle.

Verse 2 changes things up a bit. There is still confusion, and the questioning, “did the last thread come undone?” But the difference between verses 1 and 2 comes next: “’cause I told ya / I didn’t wanna hurt no one.” Hmm. Sounds like someone is admitting some kind of transgression, if he didn’t *want* to hurt anyone. Use your own imagination as to what this might be, as all sorts of things, major or minor, can cause couples to split. He’s actually putting at least part of the blame on himself.

Now the chorus makes much more sense! “Somebody better let me know my name / before I give myself away” may mean he’s confused to who he is on a general level, but in light of verse 2, it also could mean he’s confused about the person he has become after doing something to cause this rift in the relationship. The level of control examined in “somebody better show me how I feel / ’cause I know I’m not at the wheel” seems also to suggest there were external factors causing him to act, the most obvious to me being using drugs and alcohol and how they affect how you act in your daily life and make you feel out of control.

But there are plenty of things not chemically altering that can cause you to act differently. Living in Washington, we see on a regular basis how access to money, power, and yes men can corrupt even people with the best morals and the best intentions. What makes me optimistic for a happy ever after for this protagonist is he’s opened his mouth and voiced the feelings he has inside, instead of keeping mum and it all bottled up. Talking about things, even if they’re uncomfortable, maybe be as painful as ripping a Band-Aid off a wound, but in a lot of cases, the transparency leads to better understanding and a lot less hurt feelings. Note also that he asks, “is it over?”, not stating “it’s over.” There’s still a chance for reconciliation.

Lastly, the song, performed for a 4AD session. Suitably dark and dramatic like the live experience and much better than the actual promo video.

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