At 20 years old, Talullah Ruff seems from a different era. Her low, mysterious voice propels the listener into an otherworldly space, and her songs feel tinged with something nostalgic and just out of reach. Today, Atwood Magazine is excited to premiere the single “I Am Not” from the singer’s upcoming self-produced EP – a song about liminal spaces, absences, and others’ expectations.
Listen: Talullah Ruff – “I Am Not”
According to Ruff, she wrote the song after graduating early from high school, and the frustration she felt about not being able to leave yet. The transition caused her to feel stuck in a loop, which the song illustrates in its darkness and lengthy build. The song begins with a piano, a bass, and Ruff’s dusky voice:
Mirrors only reflect
What the viewer perceives
Reflections can be circumspect
When you’re not looking for a reprieve
At such a transitional age, it can be impossible to escape the expectations of adults – be they teachers, parents, older family members – but it can be even more difficult to escape the expectations of your peers. It’s clear that Ruff has had enough with attempting to live up to other people’s perceptions and expectations of who she is or what she should be. She casts off these expectations, and calls to attention what she seems to believe are her own imperfections. She says, “We’ve all got blemishes.” And yet, she asks “Does it make me ugly if mine are comfortable?”
This is the thought of someone who is comfortable in her skin and comfortable in the liminality of her situation. There is a maturity in the song’s message, and somewhat of a callout to those who are made uncomfortable by others’ lives and choices.
Ringing in at 6 minutes and 26 seconds, the song tends toward the melodramatic – and yet it feels justified. Sonically, it’s dark, dreamy, and a little Alice-In-Wonderland-y. The song feels like something that could have easily been performed in Twin Peaks, and her aesthetic tends to mirror that of alternative rock in the 90s. “This is not beautiful,” she repeats, as she winds down a list of physical
qualities including “the darkness around my eyes, the space in between my thighs,” and “jawline defined by desperation’s tides.” The list here is interesting from a lyrical perspective. What she’s listed are all negative spaces. The darkness, the space, and the jawline are all things only defined by what’s around them. The mirror metaphor carries so slyly throughout the entire song – she lists her “flaws” as things that are only defined by others’ perceptions.
Perhaps the crux of the song is best encapsulated in the line:
I don’t fit in your picture frames,
gilded with expectation
It’s a strong statement to make on a debut, and it’s an important one. Too often, younger people are belittled and their opinions thought inconsequential. Ruff wants you to know she won’t fit into your box. The final moment in the song turns it back around on the listener. She sings, “And if I get angry, and if I want out, what pill would you have me take?” It’s a challenge. It’s a dare. The message is clear, but the language is shrouded in metaphor. In this way, she maintains the elusiveness that makes the song work so well.
Keep an eye out for her debut EP, What Is Honest, due August 2017.
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photo © Lissy Elle