Must Peep Monday #7

Dorian Gray // Michael K.

I’m not saying I’m hoping for a gray, rainy day anytime soon, but I’m almost excited for the next one, because I’ll be well-prepared. You see, there’s no better compliment to those days than a song that properly validates the desire to never get out of bed and listen to raindrops drumroll on the windowpane. And for this Must Peep Monday feature, we’ve got just the thing.

“Dorian Gray” comes courtesy of Michael K., an up-and-coming artist who we featured and interviewed in our latest Sideline Spotlight. One of two songs on the budding artist’s Spotify, the moody, genre-elusive single practically spawns a steaming cup of tea in your hand and rolling, blue-gray clouds in the sky.

There are brushstrokes of James Blake in the lonely, barren atmosphere of “Dorian Grey”, populated by sparse, blunt electronic drums and a crooning slide guitar. Radiohead’s sound, notoriously unique and hard to evoke, also leaves an unmistakable mark on the song. The song even alludes to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray in its autopsy of a past relationship with a similar character whose harmless and pure appearance proved to be a veneer to conceal deeper corruption.

It’s this kind of cross-genre inspiration and influence — from literature to classical piano to electronic blips and bloops — that allows Michael K. to create such singular, versatile music that defies initial categorization, forcing the listener to take each section, line and second at face value. If you start out thinking “Ah, it’s your standard solo piano ballad,” you’ll be mistaken in about twelve seconds, when a single-note electric guitar rhythm and 808 drums join the mix.

“Dorian Gray” doesn’t need much more than those ingredients — plus a tender, lavender-soft vocal performance — to get the job done. It’s a fantastic exercise in “less is more,” as Michael K. teases the maximum amount of expressiveness and emotion out of every ingredient. And in its bridge, when the song indulges a moment of its own version of maximalism, it feels simultaneously warranted and pleasantly surprising. Starting to head-fake a slow-burn outro before taking an unexpected detour into distorted, textural wailing guitars, the song expands its dynamic and emotional span, rather than resigning to never leave the subdued atmosphere of the bulk of it.  

Though it helps to contextualize this song to its scattered, multivariate spider web of influences and similarities, Michael K.’s “Dorian Gray” (as well as her other single, “Whenever I Need To”) doesn’t fully translate to any single influence it holds. The mysterious, brooding track is ultimately a singular, individual experience that’s better felt than explained. Kinda like a rainy day.

-Jonah Bird


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