Exclusive Premiere: Bittersweet Nostalgia on Anna Atkinson’s “When We Were Young”

Anna Atkinson © Jen Squires

Toronto-based singer-songwriter Anna Atkinson presents herself as a person of focus. She boils her life down to one-thing-at-a-time statements. According to her website, she “practices yoga, lifts weights, and bicycles all over the place.” Atkinson avoids getting lost in romantic sentiments, sticking to strict minimal presentation. She gets to the point.

Watch: “When We Were Young” – Anna Atkinson


Sky Stacked Full - Anna Atkinson

Sky Stacked Full – Anna Atkinson

Atkinson is close to releasing her second solo record, Sky Stacked Full (out 10/27/2016), and today Atwood Magazine has the pleasure of debuting her newest music video for the track “When We Were Young.” The video follows Atkinson as she travels around a place she used to know. The black and white footage captures her holding relics of the past and sharing brief snippets of her scattered memories.

The track itself stays in line with Atkinson’s minimalist tendencies. Simple yet effective use of the viola runs throughout, anchoring the song with a strong energy of breathing in and breathing out. The deliberate pace matches the slowly unwound sentence that provides the lyrics. Atkinson repeats the sentence twice, opting out of a second verse in favor of pondering the first, allowing the words to linger in the air.

When we weave our sad stories together
Maybe we could knit a sweater
Gather silk scraps and cashmere
Embroidery threads
Morsels of blankets all tattered, in shreds
And the quilts that our mothers unfurled on our beds
When we were young

The lyrics begin with sad stories being shared and at first glance, the video itself seems to be a melancholy story. Someone visiting an old home that has been changed, that houses happy memories that must stay in the past. The video feels in danger of being fully steeped in sap and nostalgia, but the skill of Atkinson and her team is to avoid hitting only one note. The joy of listening to Atkinson’s music comes from complexity being presented in plain language. Rather than being confined by the video’s more gloomy black and white aesthetic, “When We Were Young” speaks warmly of the past. Throughout the video we see smiles, youth, new memories being made. The metaphor of a sweater being knit fits well as different colors and threads weave together to form a cohesive look at the past that refuses to ignore ugliness or happiness. The video presents memories plainly, as Atkinson does best, and allows the realities of the past to coexist without romanticizing them.

Anna Atkinson © Lisa Macintosh

Anna Atkinson © Lisa Macintosh

Anna Atkinson © Lisa Macintosh

Anna Atkinson © Lisa Macintosh

Midway through the second iteration of the lyrics, a new image cuts through the montage of memory. We see two dancers amidst apartment buildings and sidewalks, seemingly out of place. Finding them in this strange locale pushes the video into a new territory of dream-like imagery. The dancers move fluidly in tandem, adding something to the potentially stale energy of the frozen past, breathing new life into it. We are seeing the past animated in a new way by Atkinson, not simply nostalgic found footage, but an other-worldly interruption that suggests that the past perhaps continues to ebb and flow even as it has already occurred. There will always be parts that were unseen, that could be found anew in deeper reflection. And there are, of course, parts that played for no one, and will perhaps always stay that way.

Through “When We Were Young,” Anna Atkinson gives us a glimpse of the mystery and invites us to join in on knitting our memories together to form a more fully developed picture of what has made us who we are today.

Sky Stacked Full - Anna Atkinson

Sky Stacked Full – Anna Atkinson

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cover photo: Anna Atkinson © Jen Squires

Watch: “When We Were Young” – Anna Atkinson

Connor currently writes about music, writes plays, acts in plays, makes coffee, and spends time with pals. Tweet him @coldandscared