When Jana Horn was writing songs for The Window Is the Dream, she had almost no access to music—her record player, laptop, and phone were all broken. “I didn’t hurry to have them fixed,” she admitted. The only CD in her car was the Fall’s 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong, to which she listened on loop until it lived in her memory and she didn’t need the CD anymore. “I just think I require quiet,” she told Paste. “I need to be able to hear myself think.”
The Window Is the Dream, the Texas-born, Charlottesville-based singer-songwriter’s second LP in two years, has an exquisite clarity. Even more than on Optimism, the songs seems to emerge from deep stillness. It feels like music made by a mind washed clean by restorative silence.
If Optimism was mostly focused on Horn’s quizzical singing and jewel-cut lyrics, The Window Is the Dream is a band-in-a-room record. To assemble it, Horn recruited an extraordinary group of Austin musicians, including experimental guitarist Jonathan Horne, percussionist Adam Jones, and multi-instrumentalist Jared Samuel Elioseff (piano, synth, bass, and classical guitar). Together, they holed up in a barn that was halfway along its conversion to a studio; Horn would sometimes set down her guitar between sessions, then get down on all fours to lay bathroom tile.
The longer The Window Is the Dream goes on, the more clearly you can perceive the contours of that room and the presence of the musicians playing in it. On “Song for Eve,” Horne lets off a remarkable solo, a speckle of notes high on the neck that feels as vivid as a cameo. Jones’ simple cross-stick drumming pattern on “After All This Time” is hypnotizing. The implied light in the room is late-summer, every instrument framed by its own clean shadow. You hear the whisper of Horn’s thumb calluses on the bottom strings, feel her breath as it touches the pop filter.
On record, Horn cuts an unassuming presence. Her inflections are conversational, and her impressionistic guitar playing usually consists of just a few bass notes. But something in her tone and sensitive touch suggests technical skill intentionally held in reserve. For Horn, the words are the thing, and she delivers her words as if coaxing dark shapes to the surface.
Her lyrics often read like prose on the page, but she finds ways to bend them into melodic shapes it’s difficult to imagine anyone else finding. Take this stretch from “Days Go By”: “Maybe one thing doesn’t lead to the next;/Two sides of a coin are not the head leading to the tail./I didn’t mean to say that; on a different note/I’m listening to the sound of everything going on without you.” It sounds unsingable, like something from a Robert Ashley opera, and yet she finds a way to make you hum it.
Horn has called her lyrics “thoughts about thoughts.” She traces generous circles around nebulous feelings, allowing you to step into them. She wants, more than anything else, to get out of the way of something bigger than her. On the almost-title track “The Dream,” she offers something close to a mission statement: “The last thing I want in this breath of existence/Is not to throw myself into it/As any bird might stop flying/When the window is the dream.” Is this an ambiguous statement of surrender? A warning? A vision of her own death? Horn is generous enough to allow us to dream our own way through.
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