Fresh from the release of Brandi Carlile’s autobiography Broken Horses comes an album that feels like a glimpse into Carlile’s journal, chronicling her past, her present and her future. After the success of By the Way, I Forgive You which garnered Carlile six Grammy nominations along with three wins including Best Americana Album; In These Silent Days showcases Carlile at her most primal and authentic, it is an album that feels like a personal response to our recent, trying times.
Carlile wrote and recorded In These Silent Days with twins Phil and Tim Hanserot, who Carlile has collaborated with since her self-titled debut album in 2005. In These Silent Days was written by the trio during the COVID-19 lockdown and this sense of isolation and helplessness is evident through their intimate lyrics and the atmospheric music that is at times hauntingly simple and at other times breathtakingly ferocious. Each song, although many stylistically different to one another, all feature the theme of hope over adversity.
Whereas many people used their time over the pandemic to eat ice-cream and re-watch all seasons of The Sopranos (I hope I wasn’t the only one), Carlile decided to put her time into an album that feels like a snapshot into an intense therapy session. The album opens with Right on Time, a strikingly beautiful ballad that showcases the power and control of Carlile’s animalistic vocals. The song builds to a climatic howl in every chorus that leaves us breathless as Carlile moves effortlessly into the next verse. Right on Time is the opening chapter that guides us into Carlile’s introspective writing: “It’s not too late / Either way, I lose you in these silent days / It wasn’t right / But it was right on time.” Carlile is losing a part of herself just as critical success had been given, she acknowledges this isn’t part of the plan but it may be the best thing for her, mentally and artistically.
What follows is You and Me on the Rock, a lovely tribute to Carlile’s partner that shares the same domestic simplicity of Our House by Crosby, Stills and Nash. It is a love song in the truest sense of the word in that the only thing Carlile needs to survive is the love of her partner. It’s an easy listen with an acoustic guitar sound reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, who coincidently was in a relationship with Graham Nash during the time of Our House.
Relationships play an important role in In These Silent Days; not just the relationship between Carlile and her loved ones but the relationship she has with herself. Letter to the Past is a brutally honest depiction of Carlile as a child, “So don’t hold your breath like that / Baby, let it go.” The song was written when Carlile noticed her daughter showing the same personality traits as her. It is a letter to her daughter and to Carlile as a child, telling them both that it is ok to let go. Mama Werewolf is a warning to her children that Carlile may steer from being a good parent, but they are the ones who can bring her back “My silver bullet in the gun.” Carlile knows she isn’t perfect, but she will always try to be better.
Broken Horses is a shrieking performance of vocals in all of the best ways possible. It is rebellious, jarring and tenacious. “Tethered in wide open spaces / And fields that lead for miles / Right into the barrel of a gun.” The song is about escaping, about feeling trapped. Carlile’s voice breaks as she exclaims that the past dies with her; her children won’t fall into her family’s history. This is the standout track on In These Silent Days, melodically it is loud, rough and to the point. Whereas other songs on the album take a softer approach, ‘Broken Horses’ feels like a roar.
In These Silent Days feels like a companion piece to Carlile’s memoir. It is lyrically self-reflective with songs that feel like a lullaby (Stay Gentle) and others that feel like a call for help (When You’re Wrong). Carlile has used her time in isolation to study her past and in doing so has created an autobiographical album; an album that shows us that there is light at the end of the tunnel if we learn from our mistakes.