Today’s Song: Madison Cunningham’s Twisty, Groovy “Pin It Down”

Madison Cunningham © Robbie Jeffers
Madison Cunningham © Robbie Jeffers
Madison Cunningham’s new single “Pin It Down” is a subtle, twisty earworm you won’t forget.
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Listen: “Pin It Down” – Madison Cunningham

If you’ve ever stood in front of an Impressionist painting, you know the trick of backing away until the full scope of the image comes into view. And if you’ve ever found yourself in a convoluted situation, you know that the same tactic works. Madison Cunningham‘s latest single “Pin It Down” tells the twisty, thorny tale of one such situation.

Pin It Down - Madison Cunningham
Pin It Down – Madison Cunningham
When I stand back
I see a little clearer now
When I’m not staring
right at a pixelated picture

“Pin It Down” is a groovy, kaleidoscopic folk-rock song that cycles through the familiar realization of finding yourself back somewhere you said you’d never go again. The song begins with a low guitar riff, something oddly cheeky in its rhythm and melody. The drums enter in a steady groove, layering a rhythm guitar atop the riff. When Cunningham begins singing, it’s with a woozy self-assurance, as though something is just a little off. In the song’s accompanying video, we see her sitting in a 70s dream house with a placid look on her face, surrounded by what at first appear to be other people. Upon second glance, you realize they’re mannequins dressed in a similar style to Cunningham.

Watch: “Pin It Down” – Madison Cunningham

She describes the video as being “meant to depict the gnawing feeling that something about the house is off, misplaced, or wrong, when in fact the character has failed to find the source of discomfort because they have failed to search themselves.” Much of the video seems to be shot on a wide-angle lens, giving an odd sense of dream logic to its images. And indeed, the song itself seems to embody that idea. The chorus is cyclical, looping into a 7/8 time signature before dropping back into the familiar groove of the song:

I can’t pin it, I can’t pin it down
I can’t pin it
But I think we’ve been here once before
I think we’ve been here once before

Cunningham’s style is situated somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Margaret Glaspy, bearing both a sweetness and flippancy in her airy voice. There is a sly complexity to her writing, much of her guitar work classically inspired but accessible, her melodies often intricate but easily hooked onto. The time signature switch also adds to the song’s cleverness. Though it’s an odd meter, it still feels right, a parallel to the song’s meaning. You don’t even notice if you don’t pay attention. As the song continues, it becomes murkier and stranger: “Time and time again, the colors start to blend and our fury can’t remember its own reason.” The linchpin comes in the last verse, as blithely sings:

Maybe it’s time that I take a good a look around
At what we have learned to live with
And what we can’t live without
Madison Cunningham © Robbie Jeffers
Madison Cunningham © Robbie Jeffers

The verse concludes with the line, “When we’re standing right where we said we would never be.” As the song reaches this point, the video mirrors the same sentiment: the house begins to fill with smoke, Cunningham plays a tennis racket like a guitar, the mannequins’ heads are at the wrong angles. It’s only toward the end that she begins to notice what’s happening, a subtle side-eye aimed at the camera. In the last moments of the video, she is obscured by light and smoke, huddled into a mass of mannequins on the couch. We don’t know if she ever makes it out of the labyrinth. The song offers no conclusion, ending on a final, quiet “I think we’ve been here once before.” It’s a subtle warning, an off-kilter meditation on the importance of self-reflection. Cunningham’s quiet brilliance can be heard all over her upcoming album, due out August 16 via Verve Forecast. You can catch her on tour this summer with Andrew Bird and others, and you won’t want to miss it.

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:: stream/purchase “Pin It Down” here ::
Listen: “Pin It Down” – Madison Cunningham

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? © Robbie Jeffers

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