Forget Mr. Toad; grief is the wildest ride any of us will ever take, for it attaches itself to any and every kind of loss, whether of a person or a pet, whether by bargaining or by betrayal. And once the ride is in motion, all you can do is hold on and let it run its course through often devastatingly emotional peaks, valleys, twists, and turns. The only certainty in grief is that the depth of the sorrow matches the depth of the love. Everything else? Well, it’s just going to be what it’s going to be.
On Tides of a Teardrop, Mandolin Orange — the folk duo comprised of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz — set the wild ride that is grief to music, as Marlin lets decades-old emotions related to his mother’s death when he was 18 swell up and wash over him in song form. It is his way of releasing himself from the weight of mourning that has, for so long, tethered him to the denser, darker memories of her, rather than the light and joy that had also been present.
The tug between those forces is engaged from the opening track, “Golden Embers,” on through, as the band recognizes one even while reaching out to the other. “Loss has no end. It binds to our connection,” Marlin sings, adding, “We don’t speak of it. We don’t even try.” Loss is, to be sure, endless, binding, and unspeakable. It just is. And kudos to anyone who voices such truths so that others who are suffering may know that they are neither alone nor insane as they struggle to keep their head above grief’s turbulent waters. As the album’s title suggests, even a single drop has inestimable ripple effects.
As Tides of a Teardrop moves on, the mood shifts from somber to shimmery and back again, without ever forsaking its intimate gravitas. Nothing feels forced or hurried, even the more spirited numbers. Songs like “The Wolves,” “Into the Sun,” and “Time We Made Time” find them in some of their finest forms. The latter number closes the set like the waltzing benediction that it is, providing a profound lyrical coda to the points raised in “Golden Embers”: “Though gently she floats, her depths hold no secrets. That’s where you’ll find my rage — where the loss and the tears, tucked away through the years, rise and fall in waves,” Marlin offers. “It’s time we made time just for talking. It’s time we made time to hear.”
Though throughout Tides of a Teardrop, Mandolin Orange reckons with the ride that is grief, there’s a quiet, easy comfort to it all. You can’t listen to this album and not feel like everything will, indeed, be okay, no matter the water depths you mind be currently be treading.