Album Review: I Tried Words by Moriah Bailey

Oklahoma City experimental singer-songwriter Moriah Bailey explores the nuanced limitations within the intersection of communication and femininity

A message from the Make Oklahoma Weirder team: this article was originally written by David Dickinson in 2023 and is being released as part of MOW’s “VVeirder VVinter Vault” of 2023/24.

In her new album, I Tried WordsMoriah Bailey explores a wide range of dualities:  yes/no, future/past; darkness/light; giving/taking; masculinity/femininity; wants/needs. A great deal of this thematic layering is further focused through the social and psychological boundaries of femininity, as well as the expectations that so often come along with being a woman. What is the conflict through which these domains are examined? Communication.

Conveyed by language, signs, imagery, dance, or music, communication is the center of the human experience because it is how humans connect with one another. Although communication can be involuntary, it is usually thought of as an intentional process with specific rules to facilitate the exchange of ideas, philosophical and mundane alike.

While communication is not unique to humans, the sheer complexity of its processes, cultivated across countless constructs of collective cultures, causes collaborations and confusions. From the peaces and wars of nations to the beginnings and ends of relationships, it is at play in every scale of human interaction.

photo by Lauren Reese

As a writer, I would normally respond to new music by focusing on, well, the music, but with Bailey’s album, I feel such an approach would miss the entire purpose. Of course, the music of I Tried Words is wonderful, dreamy, wispy, yet also full and sonorous. It is light and dense all at once, but more to the point, it is not the point. Where most music is concerned with ebb and flow – tension and release – Bailey’s opus is relatively static over the course of its nearly 34 minutes. Instead, it serves as the backdrop for a narrative of
communication’s birth, life, and death. It is the unchanging dreamstate, the surreal disconnect of a woman’s world as her outlook on communication is the lone evolving factor.

Presented at first in sudden romance with a steady partner, the central female character immediately begins working to navigate the world between “the space of [their] bodies and the strength of [her] needs.” As time goes on, this relationship further unravels, revealing a veiled communication of her implicit roles. She is “woman, mother, lover, bird.” The expectations of others continue compounding on her, indifferent to who she is or the value she possesses as an individual. Further still, her lover becomes more and more her owner, as communication progressively clarifies, and she is manipulated and abused into submission – a bird fit for a cage, without a song to be heard.

Ultimately, it is in remembering the words of her parents that she finds the strength to reject the weight of others’ expectations. As she walks on eggshells and works up her courage, her father says that, “Snakes are more scared of you than you are of them.” Then, in her internal denouement, she is reminded by her mother that she cannot be expected to live up to the labels that everyone else has placed on her. Most importantly, the value of agency and dialogue is brought to the fore in this maternal wisdom: “You can never say ‘yes’ if you can’t say ‘no.’” In communication with the past, Bailey speaks to the future, unlocking the songbird and casting away the partner.

After all, how far can one bend after one has contorted oneself to bridge the gap? How long can one stand alone to cross the space between societal wants and individual needs? Ultimately, there is nothing left to do but say “no.” What else is there to say after one has exhausted every option? What else is there to do after one has tried words?

Communication is not what makes us human, but it is what gives us meaningful connection – for better or worse.

As a man, I struggle to relate with the totality of feminine experience described by Bailey. I believe I owe it to both the artist and the reader / listener to acknowledge that much. However, there is a fundamental element to this story that can neither be overlooked nor overstated. This is not the story of a woman alone. It is also the story of those with whom she communicates, both those who fail to respond in kind and those who reciprocate.

Having said so much about the story of I Tried Words, I must return briefly to the music and point out how the creative process behind the album reflects this. Bailey’s heart is rendered bare not only through the lyrics, but also through her fantastic skills as a harpist. However, she is supported by improvised recordings of violin, percussion, and guitar, by Sarah Reid, Ryan Robinson, and Ricky Tutaan, respectively.

Each musician contributed separately and in response to Bailey’s work alone, and they together represent a unique form of interwoven harmony. It defies the most traditional rules of western music theory, and frequently produces dissonances despite its generally organic and pleasant blend. This is because the other musicians have applied their musical knowledge not to a strict scoring, but to a limited understanding of Bailey’s complete picture, based on their own relationships with her (as represented through the music itself). This incredible stacking of voices produces a texture that is, as stated above, both light and dense. It maintains musical integrity while allowing for overlapping voices to support the primary character, each in their own unique ways.

I Tried Words is a beautiful story. I am sure there are many women who would feel empowered or at least validated by its reflections on femininity and boundaries. For those of us with the privilege to live beyond the burdens of others’ gendered expectations, this album should serve to focus us in on the power of communication. To our friends who remain unseen and unheard:

Perhaps there may yet be one more ear to hear you, one more eye to see you, one more hand to reach out, and one more heart to remind you of your worth and your strength.

(And for all the fancy words, I can hardly encapsulate everything this album means to Bailey, myself, or anyone else who hears it. I would strongly encourage readers to check out the artist write-up on Keeled Scales, as well as support Bailey by ordering the album through Bandcamp.)

David Dickinson
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David is a professional musician with a background in performance, composition, and nonprofit programming for accessible arts education. He enjoys writing, road-tripping with his wife, and playing with their two dogs (lab-pit mix and GSD) and one cat.

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