Usually on this blog I like to write about singles that are special in some defining means – “Through the Trees, Pt. 2” for its dramatic poetry on being alive in a strange universe, “Fireworks” for capturing an oddly midwestern sense of malaise, “These Chains” a super creative and beautiful Korean folktronic sound, and “The Rip” for Beth Gibbons’ vulnerability in delivery and overall isolating sound.
“Night Shift” as a single is a lot more straightforward. The closest track out of the above is definitely “The Rip,” in which both songs have this great female vocal lead carry you through themes of melancholy and regret. But “Night Shift” isn’t as intricate as the imagery of Portishead’s “wild white horses” and crushing self-doubt; our narrator actually tells herself that she “regains her self-worth in record time.” Rather, “Night Shift” is fixated on this simple narrative of meeting a past lover at a coffee shop and all the icky, sad feelings that are dredged back up.
Maybe it’s my recent moodiness, but I’m very moved by this otherwise simple indie rock song. The lines depicting this guy “staring at his feet” at the coffee shop communicate a lot of unspoken tension – why did we even come here? Is there something that needs to be said between us? Or did I just come to see you again? There’s nothing left to be said – I’ll “pay for my coffee and leave,” and “walk four hours in the dark, feeling all hell.” What a biting line! It’s so easy to imagine the regret and bitterness that stems from this previously precious relationship, now just an awkward amalgam of wistful feelings.
And of course the narrative expands on the meaning of “Night Shift” – since you work nine to five, I’ll work the night shift so we’ll never have to see each other again. The song soars from here; a droney and punchy guitar backs Dacus’ soulful rendition, a cathartic release of built-up tension, like finally being able to let go of the knot in your chest.
I feel that there’s a lot of power in “Night Shift’s” simplicity. In general, stories might fit into these four boxes: a simple narrative with simple meaning, a simple narrative with complex meaning, a complex narrative with simple meaning, and a complex narrative with complex meaning. While songs like “Through the Trees, Pt. 2” probably fits within a simple narrative and complex meaning, there’s something more low-level and fundamental about songs like “Night Shift” that I think perfectly targets our base human reactions. One of my favorite movies, “Groundhog’s Day,” also utilizes this simple narrative and simple meaning to great impact – it’s a fundamental tale of “becoming a better person,” which is hard not to admire and reflect on, even if you disliked the movie as a whole. I guess what I’m trying to say is that these simple stories are often piercingly honest and relatable, and maybe that’s a lot more important than just looking for art with a lot of “depth” (not that anyone disagreed, of course). In that sense, “Night Shift” is really great.