The first thing to strike you about Planes on Paper’s “Two Rivers” isn’t the sadness of its lyrical content, or the dark cloud hanging over the story’s protagonist; rather, it’s the song’s beauty: A pure, moving musical vibrance that cascades over us in waves of acoustic warmth and intimate, close-miked singing. Written in the wake of personal loss, “Two Rivers” channels sorrow and remorse through a poignant, stirring reflection on a life that’s come and gone.
You built a fortress and a war machine
burned your bridges
and the pages of your history
to forget the freezing feeling in that mercury
and it occurred to me you forgot feeling at all
that long ago
Listen: “Two Rivers” – Planes on Paper
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering “Two Rivers,” the humbling lead single off Planes on Paper’s upcoming debut album Edge Markings, out June 2018 via Portland non-profit label Rainwater Records. The one-year-old project of songwriting duo Jen Borst and Navid Eliot, Planes on Paper are rekindling folk music’s waning fire. The Yakima, Washington-based band remind us of how much you can do with so little – that at the center of every song, there lies some essence of humanity and truth. Sometimes that intangible core is hard to reach, as has been the case with plenty of music for many decades now.
But not Planes on Paper, and not “Two Rivers.” Edge Markings‘ introductory single reaches as close to the human soul as music might stretch, without being alive itself. The song’s simple underlying guitar pattern entrances us; it provokes as much sadness as it does a sort of hope through its mellow, unassuming repetition. Meanwhile, Eliot and Borst paint a haunting ode to the deceased through lyrics that are part-outgoing letter, part-internal monologue:
Planned escape but never made it far
I held a light and you
held me by the arm
across two rivers into foreign land
where I found a friend
and you finally got your war
But not what you came here for
Planes on Paper told Atwood Magazine, “We wrote this song in the wake of a losing a loved one to suicide. It’s a musing on how hard it is to wade through all [of] one’s own feelings, so it’s hard to know if we could actually rewind the tape and have one last conversation with the people we’ve lost, if we’d be able to be truly sympathetic to the pain they are carrying; to put aside our own desire to do everything we can to change the way they feel, and be satisfied with only being comfort to someone who needs it.”
This bittersweet, uncomfortable realization of our individual limitations carries with it a profound weight. “Two Rivers” may carry itself as a lilting lullabye, but for those of us who decide to delve deeper, Planes on Paper’s greater point may hurt a bit. It’s the sting of looking back on a terrible situation and realizing you may not have been able to change the outcome, after all; that for all our hindsight and the recognition that suicide prevention deserves demands international attention, there is a larger narrative at play for so many people suffering from depression or other mood disorders.
These feelings are especially potent in the band’s solemn, soaring chorus:
I won’t ask you to stay
I wont ask you to do
anything you don’t want to
your don’t have to change
you don’t have to say
anything you don’t mean to me
I won’t ask you to stay
So what, does that mean we’re helpless and hopeless? No – “Two Rivers” isn’t a surrender. It’s a means of accepting that which is perhaps the hardest for the ones who are left behind to accept: That we did the best we could, knowing that we could have always done more, because we always can. But you live with your decisions and your actions, and you make peace with others’ decisions and their actions. “Our hope is that our memories of someone we loved and our internal struggle with their loss, might be consoling to a few of the many people who have had the same struggle,” Planes on Paper share.
No one’s preaching anything; no one’s giving anyone else any advice. “Two Rivers” is a cathartic exercise in letting go: The final stage of a long and difficult journey through loss that sadly many of us are likely to face at some point. “Another fragile truce, cease-fire between god and you; it’s like you finally got your due and I got mine too,” singe Planes on Paper in the verse, struggling as we all do to comprehend and live with their loved one’s decision. “You made a nest and settled in, watched that all like all things end, imagined and forgotten in one breath, until there’s nothing left.”
“Two Rivers” intensifies in its finale, raising slowly in volume as if the band and their physical instruments are coming closer and closer toward us, until all at once the band reduce back to a simmer, and Navid Eliot sings a sober last verse – the closing thank-you and farewell.
In an old dead garden once
we caught up and counted months
I knew you only then and brief
before I moved out east
Then I watched that garden bloom
your fortress grew til it held you
and I’m holding your old pages
near to me
I’ve got that at least
A definite Atwood artist to watch in the months to come, Planes on Paper deliver mountains of depth and intimacy in their warm folk embrace. It may be birthed from darkness, but “Two Rivers” truly is beautiful, both as a musical work and as an homage to a life that was. Stream “Two Rivers” exclusively on Atwood Magazine, and pre-order Planes on Paper’s debut album Edge Markings through the link below!
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📸 © Nirav Patel