I stepped outside my front door into the misting Oxford air, turned swiftly left and looked out across the aged urban landscape. The Christmas decorations were strung up and ready to go but not yet lit—winter was coming quickly, but hadn’t quite arrived. The transition was consuming and overwhelming in scope, as the days became greyer and greyer and the nights began to arrive alarmingly early. The air was so much colder than my Florida-trained lungs were used to harnessing, it expired like smoke into the gloomy early-onset afternoon sky.
In my ears, the isolated, ethereal harmonies and delicately plucked acoustic guitars of “Have I Always Loved You,” mirror the feeling of oncoming freeze. The song is the first on Ixora, the first album from my fellow Florida natives in Copeland since 2008. It accompanies this exit from my apartment for what seems like the billionth time—the sonic equivalent to the first real fall I’ve fully experienced since I was very small. “Have I Always Loved You” begins Copeland’s anticipated fifth outing with astounding vulnerability and fragility from a band whose increasing vulnerability and fragility in the later years of its career have turned it from a great band into an amazing band. As the wind blows my cheeks raw and fills my eyes with liquid, Ixora exudes the beauty of the quickly darkening afternoons of early winter days.
That is, Ixora perfectly represents sonically the feeling of being quietly on the edge of something. Winter so close you can taste it. Love so close you can touch it. Happiness right before your eyes. But still just beyond your reach. Ixora is simultaneously full and sparse, quiet and loud, composed and uncertain—it’s an unbelievable listen from a band who, to date, has yet to fail at besting itself, at creating the absolute best iteration if its sound without losing what made it special in the first place.
“Disjointed” is the perfect representation of this, the clearest progression from 2008’s You Are My Sunshine, while at the same time bringing in the new pillars of Copeland’s songwriting that come into play on Ixora—the traditional slowly unfolding crescendos and pristinely delivered lovelorn lines (“is this the sweetest song I’ve ever heard/you’re singing in your native tongue”) are merged with icy electronics and an undeniable groove. The rest of the album teeters on either side while remaining impeccably uniform all the while. “I Can Make You Feel Young Again” and “Like A Lie” feed on this sense of quiet groove while “Erase” and “Ordinary” deliver the most distinct and fantastic versions of Copeland songs in the band’s discography, proving that they do what they do better than anyone else.
“Erase” is particularly enthralling, its scope gradually blossoming from a lonely piano ballad into an enveloping orchestral affair, with lead singer Aaron Marsh hitting his most haunting falsetto notes just at the most poignant moment, as the orchestra recedes for just a second: “and I can’t help this awful feeling that I can’t erase you.” The silence is washed away in one of the few “crashing” moments on Ixora, as these words are lost among the currents of quivering strings and swirling guitars. “Erase” is a marked accomplishment from an already accomplished band—and it speaks to Ixora’s quality that it never seems to overshadow or feel out-of-place among the rest of the nine songs.
Ixora is quiet devastation, the dull panic of an existentially burdened winter nights. It ebbs and flows but rarely explodes, and its most heartbreaking moments are simultaneously its most relaxing. Take the penultimate “World Turn,” an early Bon Iver-esque reverie that seems to live in a mostly empty, slightly echo-y room with a relaxed Marsh and a causally strummed acoustic guitar. The lyrics reflect this, a wish for quiet isolation in a moment when the everyday motions of your life just seem far too much to deal with: “Now you can feel the world move slow/if you lay down on your back and wait/and suddenly you’re home.” Just as the music lures the listener into serenity, a sleepily performed saxophone emerges but does not startle—instead, it quietly changes the identity of the song from something simply relaxing into something profound. A soft, but important stirring, an unreactive unhinging of everything that’s kept you sane…and a silent struggle to pull it all back together, eyes still closed, as the sax recedes and the song returns to its original state.
Ixora is sad but not hopeless—it’s a representation of the idea that everything in your life can seem to be just perfect and can even actually be going really well, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not still plagued by all of the same insecurities and thorns that have followed you all your life. It’s about realizing that all of the bad in your life will never truly disappear; about clinging to the things that make it all feel better, if only for a moment, whether it be a loved one (“in her arms you will never starve/you will never freeze/and when the world is hard/you can fall asleep there”), an imagined happy place (“a lavender hillside in the sun”), or anything. It’s about not running from these things in search of a nonexistent place where all of the bad stuff is gone (“what if you can’t turn back when you’re finally tired of running?”). It’s about letting yourself be comforted, even if you think you don’t deserve it.
And one of the reasons why Ixora is so amazing is because it can do some of that comforting, it can pull you under with the spectral calm of “Like a Lie” or the full synth underbelly and call-response of “Chiromancer.” Ixora is paradoxically haunting and reassuring—and this is precisely why it is so stunning. On my walks through Oxford with the album, I was simultaneously happier than I had ever been in my entire life and panicked at the implications of that fact. How I may never return to the place I’ve grown to love once I leave in two weeks, or how I may indeed return or find somewhere else that I love and have to be far away from the people I care about. How I feel better than I’ve ever felt here, how much I want that feeling to stay, and how much I fear it won’t. Ixora marks this point of confusion and uncertainty in an astounding fashion. It’s the kind of album that gracefully but surely sinks into your life. It’s the album I needed to hear this year more than any other—and one I’m sure I’ll reach for and need for years to come.