Taking a deeper look into Gia Margaret’s Sophomore album ‘Mia Gargaret’
Gia Margaret’s debut album, There’s Always Glimmer (self-produced, by the way) appeared to come out of nowhere. With an extremely low key release in July 2018, the album slowly gained recognition, mainly through word of mouth, until it ended up on various ‘Best Of…’ lists at the end of the year. Margaret’s gentle voice and breathy tone, along with her simple yet overwhelmingly beautiful lyrics rightly earned her great recognition, and so her second album was widely anticipated, with fans and critics alike wondering where she would take her talents next.
It may come as some shock, then, that this long-awaited album, Mia Gargaret, contains practically no vocals whatsoever. Instead, due to losing her voice on tour, Margaret turned her attention to creating something completely different. While recuperating at her home in Chicago, Margaret began work on an album that placed the focus on the background; on the atmospheric, painstakingly layered, and often forgotten aspect of mainstream music.
With a background in classical piano, the composition of classical and instrumental music was a huge part of the singer-songwriter’s life until her decision to branch out to record her debut. This is evident throughout Mia Gargaret, as despite there being no vocal melodies or sung lyrics until the final track, Margaret masterfully finds a narrative through ambient synths, sprawling piano lines, and sampled audio clips. She uses these clips sparingly, including church bells, birdsong, and waves crashing on a beach, and they blend effortlessly with the musical landscape she has created. These tracks transport you to different parts of the world through these clips, be it a warm, sun-soaked beach or a forest returning to life in the Spring, and Margaret not only provides the ambient noises you would hear in this setting, but also a beautifully fitting soundtrack to your travels.
Spoken word appears sparingly in this album. In the opening track, ‘Apathy’, we hear a clip of her own vocal class, including the voice of her coach encouraging her to ‘feel free in your body and let things come out the way they want’. Such an addition gives the opener, and consequently the rest of the album, an almost meditative feel. It is as if Margaret placed this audio in to encourage the listener to heed this same advice, let go completely, and let the music she has created wash over you with no abandon.
This idea of letting the body continues with gusto into the next track, aptly named ‘Body’. In this, Margaret samples the voice of British philosopher Alan Watts giving a lecture titled ‘Overcome Social Anxiety’. ‘Body’ meditates on the nature of life, of being, of living. It’s heavy stuff, but Gia’s arrangement of the track makes it seem simple. Easy almost. Meandering around Watts’ profound words (which honestly would have provided me with enough content to write a whole dissertation during my Philosophy degree, so there’s no way I can get into it in this short album review) is a lively melodic line played delicately and sprightly on a synthesised piano.
Watt’s strong yet comforting voice speaks alongside it, with no one aspect being placed above the other. ‘“My body is a burden to me.” To whom? To whom, that’s the question, you see. And when there is no one left for whom the body can be a burden, the body isn’t a burden. So long as you fight it, it is’ Such a sentiment can take time to properly unpack, but the general idea is evident: your body will often feel heavy. You will never be weightless. You will frequently feel that ‘life is a drag’. But that body is you, and as long as you are around, your body will be, too. So, as Margaret’s vocal coach put so eloquently in the opening track, you must work on feeling free within these confines, as that is the only way to truly live.
While that may have felt a bit profound to read on just your average day, all of these themes come across effortlessly through Margaret’s music. She presents these difficult and hard-to-unravel ideas to you and then gives you endless space and time to ponder them and figure out what they mean to you. The sparing use of these speaking clips is completely purposeful, and while only a few words are spoken, each presenting new, poignant concepts, a whole tapestry of meditative sound is waiting for you to truly appreciate them.
In ‘Barely There’, Margaret even adds her own contemplation into the album, reminiscing about ‘just trying to make it to the next sentence without anyone noticing the vacancy on your eyes’, and the feeling of being ‘barely there’, as the title suggests. By the end of her speech, though, it seems Margaret, or the protagonist, is on her way to figuring it out, with a line spoken so quietly you almost can’t hear it: ‘you’re there’ – two words that completely and perfectly sum up Watt’s lecture in ‘Body’.
Mia Gargaret ends with a song that would have fit seamlessly into There’s Always Glimmer. For the first and last time on this album, Margaret’s singing voice appears, as soft and beautiful as ever, showing that not only has her voice been healed, but that as a result of Margaret’s introspection and thoughts about life throughout the album, she is beginning to heal her mind, too.
The stylistic departure Mia Gargaret made from Margaret’s debut album demonstrated her undeniable and unparalleled talent. There are few artists out there at the moment that could pull such an experimental concept off, yet Margaret did it with flying colours. We may not know what she will pull out of her sleeve for the next album (supposedly coming out this year), but there is no doubt that it, too, will be perfection.
Words by Poppy Booth