Ella Mine’s Dream War and Walking Through Darkness

Ella Mine’s Dream War

I’m bridging the gap of the last couple of years since I’ve posted here with a series of music reviews that view life through the lens of these albums.

Are we ready to talk about 2020? I’m not sure we are ready to talk about 2020, but we’re gonna do it anyways.

We have all kinda put that year in a box and tried to forget about it entirely but for the sake of people reading this some time far in the future, I’m not sure I can overstate how wild and insane that year was. A global pandemic virus swept into our lives and shut everything down and I mean everything. Our children were sent home from school and we suddenly had to become assistant teachers and help them navigate through online meetings while juggling our own jobs and online meetings. The restaurant and music industry nearly collapsed completely. Racial tensions from police aggression boiled over in our streets. Our president, who agitated these protests and had already exhausted us with four years of non-stop drama, held daily press briefs where he openly speculated on conspiracy theories about the virus and mused on non medical treatments like injecting bleach in your veins. We were afraid that even going to grocery store would cause us to get sick and die.

2020 was a lot, man.

It was in the middle of the darkest part of a dark year that I found this album, Ella Mine’s Dream War. Ella Mine is a Nashville protege, coming from a Nashville musical family and studying under Charlie Peacock. However, in her youth she suffered from chronic pain and the medication she took for that caused anxiety, manic moments and nightmares. She lived for years in a state of sleeplessness and terror. When she finally recovered from that time, she was able to cull that experience into her first album, a careening ride that reflects those frantic moments and rests of exhaustion. She slides effortlessly from English to Norwegian in some songs reflecting her heritage. Her virtuoso piano work is complemented by harsh chords of electric guitar. The centerpiece of the album for me is “Wheel of Love” where she asks the classic question whether it is better to love and lost than never to have loved at all.

Honestly tell me is it better to believe

That good exists on some far out shore

And set your course for the open sea?

Honestly tell me is it better to dream and

Be dashed again against the cliffs 

And cast under the waves again?

Ella Mine – “Wheel of Love”
Ella Mine (featuring Nate Banks of Arlie) – Wheel of Love

In the final act of the album with “Fire” and “Dream Again”, there is some resolution and peace as she decides she is brave enough to dream again and for me that’s what makes the album. It is a journey from beginning to end with a satisfying conclusion.

At the start of the pandemic, we all thought things would be strange for a couple weeks and everything would go back to normal. The longer things dragged on the more we all realized there was no going back. The cliche “new normal” became as worn as “we are all in this together.” It was at that time when I found this album which asked when you are in the middle of a time when there is no sign that things are going to change, how do you hope for change? Ella Mine concludes at the end you gotta jump in anyway.

Running fast toward a sunlit sky

This light will last if we don’t lose the horizon

Though there are shadows dancing just beneath the waves

I’ve gotta jump in

I’ve gotta jump in anyway

Ella MINE – “Dream AGAIN”

I’m not sure that we, collectively, as a culture have come to grips with the trauma of the last few years. Let’s be honest, we’re not really over the pandemic (it finally got me just a couple months ago) or the social upheaval that it exasperated. As I start to unpack that year, though, this is the album that I went to time and again during that year and it’s the album that I think of when I think of that time. It’s a dark and harrowing ride, but like the album the horrors of the year have begun to recede with yet an opportunity to look forward.