Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley
The occasional mornings, when there was something cooked for breakfast - and it wasn't just cold cereal and the newspaper again - it was a kitchen filled with the stench of bacon and sausage fat burnt hot and smoky. It's a smell that never became too ingrained in the nostalgic parts of my memories, for the days of such occurrences were few and far between. They were of little or no consequence and didn't mean much, nor would they mean much now. They'd simply be the smells of breakfasts that came about because it was a rainy day and someone was oddly adventurous with the skillet. Perhaps, the rainy day part of the memory is actually strong enough to make it matter, though the feeling here is that it's a stretch. It was just a breakfast. It was just bacon and it was just sausage.
Brenda Malvini, the lead singer of the New York band, North Highlands, has a memory of breakfast that's much stronger and it kicks in during leisure mornings of bliss, when the aroma of coffee hangs heavy in the am air, when the day's been greeted affectionately by a couple of happy and contented people. She sings, on "Collarbones," "If I could kiss you all day long/Surely I would/Cause you're the only thing in my life that's tastin' good/And you remind me of the mornin', mornin', mornin'/Cause we beat everybody to the breakfast table/Cinnamon and syrup/You remind me of the mornin', mornin', mornin'/Every teakettle whistles for you." The smell or the taste of cinnamon and syrup sticks on a body through a day. It gets into the hair follicles the way that cigarette smoke does and there's no escaping it. It's bound to linger for hours and hours, deep into the afternoon, if not longer, and here, in her thoughts, it's a great thing.
The North Highlands songs heard here share values with these thoughts, or with the delicacy, but stickiness of a good love, of the one that can't be shaken off. They're of the mind that love and the days of love work best when they're just on you. When you can smell them without anything in the air - just the residual in the nose or on the clothing - and when you can taste them with an empty mouth. They can still be frightening though, dealing with held breath and crossed fingers and toes, holding someone so tightly and breathing along to their heartbeat, fearing that if they let go, "one of us would die." And heaven help whomever survived for that smell of cinnamon and syrup would still be there as a mean little reminder. We hear that Malvini gets it, as she sings, "And I realize, that's what love's supposed to feel like/And I realize, that's what love's gonna feel like."