Exclusive Premiere: Onsen’s “What Fortunes” at the Crossroads of Breakup

Earthquake Weather - Onsen
Earthquake Weather - Onsen

On the cusp of a breakup, I know what must be done and dread what comes after; a song of mourning.

Endings are never easy: As humans, we are programmed with the ability to create great things – we’re very good at beginnings – but we have to learn how to cope with conclusions. Loss is an important part of life, and indie/electronic artist Onsen captures the dread of an ending on his new song “What Fortunes.”

What stays my hand is the thought of what’s to come
Bind my hands in parallel and be done
Listen: “What Fortunes” – Onsen
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“What Fortunes,” which Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering today, captures the dark reality of an impending breakup through an ethereal and spacey backdrop. The second single off Onsen’s forthcoming debut album Earthquake Weather (out 6/24/2016 via Cosmic Dreamer Music), “What Fortunes” is an innocent petition acknowledging guilt. “But what fortunes do I leave here on my own? Find the lucky way that leaves no space for harm,” laments lead singer Drew Straus. Straus, who originally began Onsen as a solo project after transitioning from a career in international policy over to music, knows a thing or two about change, though he’s no better than dealing with it than anyone else. Onsen’s debut album “was written over the course of two years of intense change” – change that made Straus reexamine himself and his context in the world.

Endings make up a lot of what spurs change, development, and newness. Life doesn’t move forward in every direction at once – it changes course in accordance to the opening and closing of doors. “What Fortunes” is a case study, in a sense, of one of those doors that has to close in order for new doors to open. Straus’ voice implies his reluctance to say goodbye; he is hesitant, mournful before the end even begins. However, this ending has to happen – of that, Straus is certain.

Onsen © Brandon Andrew
Onsen © Brandon Andrew

These life changes surely played a major role in the development of “What Fortunes.” The song is the opening track to Earthquake Weather, introducing listeners to Onsen and in some ways setting the scene for what’s to come: Onsen develops a celestial mix of electronic and psychedelically tinged baroque pop music that struggles with the push-and-pull of life’s changes. “But is it enough? I keep you warm… I don’t know,” Straus asks in a classically-influenced chorus.

If it wasn’t meant to be, then why do I see it?
And if it wasn’t yours to keep, then why do I see it?

Uncertainties haunt Onsen: “What Fortunes” is full of unanswerable questions – questions that exist out of dread, nostalgia, and longing. Their weight becomes overwhelming in the second chorus, as layers of questioning voices ask, to no one in particular, what to do about this ill-fated relationship. That introspection continues into the song’s psychedelic breakdown. As handclaps and keyboards hold down the ‘fort’, Straus ponders his fate. “If it wasn’t meant to be, then why do I see it? And if it wasn’t yours to keep, then why do I see it?” Onsen’s lyrics are equally psychedelic at this part: The general theme of his distress is clear, but his exact meaning is hard to grasp.

Onsen © Brandon Andrew
Onsen © Brandon Andrew

Perhaps clarity is exactly the issue: “What Fortunes” finds Onsen trying to figure out the future, doing a cost/benefit analysis of decisions based on speculation. But the future is unclear – that’s what makes it the future: Excluding determinist philosophies, nothing is definite; nothing is set in stone; as Ellie Goulding says, “Anything can happen.” That lack of certainty is a primary cause of Onsen’s stress and unrest: One cannot know how the end of a relationship will play out, and Onsen certainly doesn’t want to create a huge mess.

It just has to happen. Things have to be this way.

If Onsen/Straus feels powerless over the outcome of the present situation – that breakup is inevitable, given the dynamics at play – then one may also see “What Fortunes” as an apology. Things seem out of Onsen’s hands, given the desire for the object of desire to be “kept warm” – and quite literally, “What Fortunes” opens with the line, “What stays my hand is the thought of what’s to come.” There is a desire for catharsis through this ending: Catharsis for both parties. With that in mind, the song speaks both to Onsen and to the soon-to-be-former paramour as an explanation – an account of that sinking feeling; an attempt to reconcile things before they fall apart.

Onsen’s raw emotion, humanity, and fragility shine through “What Fortunes,” an impressive feat considering the song’s other-worldliness. An ominous darkness looms on Onsen’s horizon. “But what fortunes do I leave here on my own?” he asks. Endings are not easy, and Onsen has no way of knowing that what awaits in the future is worth giving up what exists today. Isn’t that life, though? A series of gambles, risks and decisions for which we cannot truly predict the outcome, but we must go ahead with them anyway? At an important crossroads, Onsen cannot help but express the dread of hoping for the best, without any guarantees.

Hazy and full of uncertainty, “What Fortunes” comes just in time to be enjoyed in the full heat of summer. Look out for Onsen’s debut album Earthquake Weather, out in late June via Cosmic Dreamer Music.

Earthquake Weather - Onsen
Earthquake Weather – Onsen
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