Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mark Hawley
It just so happens that this is the morning of the first snow of the winter season. The overnight hours went to work and produced a light covering of the white stuff that must have shocked the grass blades that were just barely hanging on before going dormant. Just a few hours after daybreak, it's already mostly gone, turned back out of solid form and into the water and evaporative mist it started as. It's an experience like this one - so forgettable and yet so significant in the span of the calendar days and where it's leading us - that Tori Amos uses, not just with her winter-themed new album, "Midwinter Graces," but in her larger body of work, including her 17-song record, "Abnormally Attracted To Sin," which was released earlier in the year. Amos, the legendary pianist and songwriter, has always taken to the "marshmallow snow," and these scenes and feelings that are so easy to associate with involuntary isolation from the elements, sitting down with a pot and mugs of something very warm and just looking out from the warm insides of a house as jittery birds hop around and leave their prints with those of the rabbits, in the impressionable snows that most are avoiding. She doesn't at all loathe the cold temperatures and the blizzards. She's friendly with them, letting them infuse themselves into her fingers, improvising what is going to be struck by her curved digits as they gently depress the keys of her piano for her stark stories of men and women, little boys and little girls, who all seem to have their struggles and their vacant caresses to address over four or five minutes of spooky waltzing. She's a master at using this coldness and hurt and making it feel more like a crackling fire, as if it is the embrace that you've always wanted. They are the chronicles of whispers that flow from such deep recesses of a soul and a mind that just don't know what to do with them. They ache and they flare up when her flutters of piano swell into wildfires that continue to maintain many of the consistencies of surfaces that are unable to be navigated without the greatest of care. "Ophelia," from "Abnormally Attracted To Sin," is a strong, whipping wind of discontent, taking us into the sorry life of a woman who has a secret that needs to be protected. It seems to be about abuse and its unavoidable stain that persists from beyond the grave and throughout all time. When she sings the name, "Ophelia," it sounds like she's saying, "I feel ya," in certain spots in the song and all that this seems to suggest is a feeling of emptiness and undiscovered self-empowerment. It's a cold blast of black ice and treacherous footing, all topped with a dangerous dusting of fluffy snow, giving every inch of the ground the potential to knock someone on their ass and bang a hip bone or crack a rib or two on the hard ground. It's the audio equivalent of getting stuck out in the middle of a pond, where the thickness of the ice is unknown and the only thing that one is able to do is spin their wheels, trying so slowly to move, to get anywhere, but there's no traction. Meanwhile, there are cracks and shifts in the ice below that bellow like shouts and thuds, bringing on the sweats and worry. Ophelia is trapped out on this ice, unable to get away, unable to change anything about her life, though she must. She must have a different life and this is the cold truth that we celebrate Amos for, in all that she does. It's the cold truth, the possibility that a change might not happen for these torn and toiling people who need it the most.