Living and surviving in a time of enforced quarantine and measured distancing can be frustrating for artists who feed off from the appreciation and energy of their fans and community.
But rather than sulk in a period of imposed isolation, folk musician Reese Lansangan released a brand new EP titled Playing Pretend in the Interim. It essentially reflects how she’s been in a period of quarantine from the rest of the world, most especially from performance spaces that have showcased her musical dexterity and lyrical virtuosity.
On her YouTube channel where her latest EP is readily accessible, Reese wrote, “My new album is a five-track EP of songs completed during (Covid-19) isolation. I composed the songs from the perspectives of different characters, telling hyper-specific experiences with borrowed eyes. It’s a combination of research, imagination, secondhand stories, histories, and things I’ve heard and witnessed along the way.”
Reese is a guitar-toting folk artist by trade. In her time producing the new EP, she managed to build on her musical roots to go happily yonder where she has not yet gone before. She relates, “The writing process was both an experiment and an examination of the self as a human living with and for others. “The song “Ghosting,” for instance, is an experimental riot of a song about a ghost searching for a new home.
“This idea came from an online writing prompt generator I came across during my two-week long research for this EP. I had the funniest time putting myself in the shoes of a ghost (if ghosts had shoes) sleeping in a grand piano and getting booted out by a cat.” The unique album title is simply described as a way of escaping reality for a moment, allowing room for wonder and play.
There’s wonder also how Reese came up with more robust music on her latest album. In previous releases, she lived up to her billing as a pop folk artist initially in the mold of Barbie Almalbis and in later incarnations, playing around with jazzy inflections and vocodered vocals.
Produced while in isolation mode, the new EP finds Reese expanding on her folkie roots.
Album opener “Mall Rats” is performed at a slow tempo, foregrounded by sad piano lines and mournful strings to turn Reese into an emotive balladeer. “Extended Vacation” will do Meghan Trainor proud, elevating Reese among the best pop rock composers in OPM. “The Encyclopedia Salesman” scratches the folk itch and its meandering melody ramps up to memorable chorus. And “When It Happens” opens with a trumpet wail before moving to a playful pop surprise.
Unsurprisingly, Reese’s gift for imaginative character sketches is in full bloom overcoming the hurdles imposed by a silent killer disease. “Extended Vacation” is about the struggles of the working class, in this case a pizza delivery man who has to serve his customers no matter the health risks in the time of a pandemic and the hazards of Manila’s roads.
Reese said. “Extended Vacation” came out of a heated conversation I overheard at a restaurant during my first time out post-enhanced community quarantine. The song hopes to be a fair take on our current reality in the pandemic through the lenses of hardship and privilege.”
She disclosed, “Mall Rats” is a self-examination of my own relationship with consumption and material things I lightly touch on themes of loneliness, discontent, and capitalism through the eyes of a girl in the middle of an abandoned mall.”
In “The Encyclopedia Salesman.” Reese imagines the day in a life of a door-to -door salesman as he hustles to find his place and fulfill his purpose at the brink of the new millennium. She spent many summers poring over her Childcraft and World Book volumes and she finds a sense of security that comes with owning words on a page and knowing they’ll never change.
Reese thinks the song is a beautiful, melancholy narrative of finding a foothold through the passing of time, specifically being in a situation she eloquently describes as “sandwiched between the era of hardbound facts and digital information.”
“The final song ‘When It Happens’ is about death and how we collectively mourn in public through different means,” she shared. “The tributes come in and it’s all we could ever talk about but after a week or a month, everybody moves on.”
“I lost my father when I was very young and thought it unfair that people could go home and be okay right after, while I’m not. This song is an outpouring of things I often think about: passing and being forgotten, missing out on loved ones, but also living on through stories, songs, and memory.”
The absence of agitation in her words and music in the context of enforced quarantine due to the pandemic makes Playing Pretend in the Interim Reese’s meditation while waiting for the first day of unfettered freedom.
To paraphrase Jarvis Cocker, Reese has creatively embraced isolation and everything that it entails, and fans of introspective, non-invasive music is all the better for it.