somebody in hell loves you
Heartbreak is an age-old muse, but it’s the gift that keeps on giving—as long as there are break-ups, there will be songs about break-ups. After all, it’s something nearly everybody goes through, a universal experience that’s simultaneously unique to each individual relationship. To that extent, it’s not the subject matter that gets tired, but the execution. Intention plays a big part, too—the commodification and exploitation of real emotion to make a quick buck is, sadly, more the norm than the exception. Thankfully, there are still artists who write about heartache for the right reasons, and who pour their heart and soul into what they make.
Sydney Sprague did just that on her first full-length, 2021’s maybe i will see you at the end of the world, and she’s done it again with somebody in hell loves you. And while it would’ve been easy for her to jump on the boygenius bandwagon in terms of her sound, Sprague instead decided to put her songwriting personality front and center on this record. So while there’s plenty of self-recrimination here about a failed relationship (“if i’m honest” opens the album with a half-apology: “I didn’t mean to let you down or be cold”), it doesn’t so much wallow in the sadness as use it as fuel to move forward.
“if i’m honest” is earnest and heartfelt, but the uptempo chug of the music offsets the downbeat lyrics with the fuzzy warmth of promise, even as the song itself finds Sprague wandering, ghostlike, through her past. It’s followed by “lsob,” which establishes the fact that while heartbreak might be at the center of this record, its female protagonists, whether Sprague or her characters, are done playing the victim. “He’s a lucky son of a bitch,” she intones over a down-tuned guitar riff, “He doesn’t know what he has, he doesn’t know what to do with it.”
To that extent, somebody in hell loves you serves to dismantle the patriarchy as much as it wrestles with the emotions of heartbreak. It’s full of stunning pop hooks (“overkill,” “terrible places”) as much as it is heartfelt trauma, and it flourishes and triumphs as a result. “data analysis” might suggest tedium, but it’s a wonderfully intimate examination of what love—or the lack thereof—does to the human brain, while “god damn it jane” is a sumptuous indie-pop anthem that injects its pain with a healthy dose of irreverence, humor, and defiance.
But it’s “hello cruel world” and closer “sketching lessons” that really sum up the heart and soul of this album—not quite happy, not quite sad, not quite resigned, not quite defiant, but something in between all of those things that captures the fluctuating emotions that love and the subsequent loss of it entails. Whether you focus on the personal emotions or their wider implications is up to you, but this is a record with plenty to offer everyone, heartbroken or otherwise, whether they think they’ve heard it all before or not.