Talia Schlanger Finds a Gentle Resilience on 'Grace for the Going'

BY Alisha MughalPublished Feb 5, 2024


There’s a resilience to heather. The wispy evergreen shrub not only withstands the spray of the salty sea and grazing animals’ hunger, so much so that it relies on them for maintenance, but it can also recover after a blaze and survive freezing temperatures. Watching a field of heather bow and crest — its pink and purple flowers like so many tiny butterflies — the shrub cuts a strikingly beautiful form; poetic for its unpretentious hardiness.

On her debut album Grace for the Going, Talia Schlanger is like heather — complex and paradoxical; nurturing and fragile and resilient. She brilliantly balances and delivers again and again an impressive duality. Her words carry strength and delicacy, but so does her voice, with the contradictions coming together to whip up an imitable force of nature. The album — embroidered throughout with strings, a folksy guitar that rages and mourns in equal measure, and Fiona Apple-esque jazzy percussion — finds earnestness and hope as its bedrock, working to foster love against any and all sardonic odds.

Schlanger deals in prickly memories cast in loving relief — the album’s opening track, “See You Home,” chronicles Schlanger’s grandmother’s voyage across the Atlantic with Schlanger’s aunt after surviving the Holocaust. It’s a beautiful, reedy track on which Schlanger offers her grandmother’s past a kind of watchful safety, a gentleness that’s hard not to feel viscerally. “I know you’re tired, and scared to close your eyes / I’ll keep watch until you reach the ocean’s other side,” she begins the track; “I would gather all the stars, if they were ours to keep / and fill your pockets with a light that you could always see,” she sings near its end. The track is both filmy and flinty, and it sets the perfect tone for the rest of the album: a stolid promise of love, despite that it’s too late by our earthbound standards.

“Show me where it hurts, promise I won’t tell you someone else has had it worse,” Schlanger sings on “Narrow Bridge,” her voice drifting like a ghost. It’s a haunting gem on which Schlanger promises steady understanding and patience for another, perhaps for the self, when things get murky and febrile, when we try to outrun our insides.

This attentive care is present even on the jauntily barbed “Attention,” directed at a noncommittal and selfish lover. “I save my grace for the going / You save your mean for the end,” she predicts steadily. Crucially, there’s no ironic disdain or venom — instead, it hints at a clarity of knowing, not only of the other but also of the self. The track contains another shade of Schlanger’s paradoxical strength, an intensity of feeling alongside a kind of calmness or equanimity. But this doesn’t necessarily mean Grace for the Going is all calm and bloodless.

Schlanger constructs a space for the moody shades that we flicker through, understanding and making room for all our mercurialness — the anger, sadness, whatever that may come. This space isn’t as crimson as anger and not as blanched as indifference; it’s warm and charged and alive and moving.

“Thinking how unlikely, despite the war outside me and inside me, I am still here,” Schlanger observes on the beguiling “So Small.” It’s perhaps the saddest song on the album. “And if this is what remains then it must be what I chose,” she reasons as the light threatens to awaken another war in her, as her words note self-inflicted loneliness, people leaving, time being wasted despite intense love, and patience in the face of nothingness. “I can feel the floor, it is cold against my cheek,” she sings, the coldness being the only thing that tells her she’s real at all. But something magical happens at the end of the track; As she sings the chorus, her voice swells grander than it is anywhere else on the album, like a field of heather breathing as a singular organism in a gust of wind. If her words on “So Small” chronicle intense sadness, then her voice and the music mount to magnificent proportions, honouring the feeling and demonstrating what it looks like to exercise a radical love for the self, to construct the space to feel fragile and alive.

Grace for the Going teaches us not only what an intense, radical kind of loving looks like,  but also presents a picture of working toward this goodness, this intensity of softness and love. Schlanger’s beautiful debut teaches us a kind of simple kindness for the self, and by extension others, in such stark relief from the dispassionate, dissociative irony we often carry with us.

“I have been busy / I’m busy often defending my right to be forgotten,” she observes on “Right to Be,” a song that lays out the depressive inclination to disappear from those we love. But again, Schlanger’s observation isn’t here isn’t a self-flagellating one. She surveys the textured plane of human fallibility and from a place of strength and grace, delivers something heathery soft. It’s possible to extend grace and love to the variance of all our feelings — it’s possible to cast a tender, embracing, beautifying gaze upon the mess of the self. That gentle, resilient discovery is Grace for the Going’s ultimate gift. 


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