Berlin During Winter (Holly Remix)

by Lily Lyons

When I listen to Sarah P.’s track “Berlin During Winter,” I think of dark blue. The kind of blue that city streets are washed with when the sun is down but the sky is not fully dark. Maybe this is because of the song’s music video, which features World War II bombs exploding in reverse filtered to a steely cobalt color. But I think it’s something more fundamental than that. The vocals sound blue, and the production feels blue…particularly in the song’s most recent iteration, a remix by Portugese electronica producer Holly.

Holly’s remix seems to pacify the original version of “Berlin During Winter,” softening the beats and adding a gentle nostalgia. It’s as if Sarah P. is calling to the listener from underwater. The drums are kept at arm’s length, ringing out from the opposite side of the sonic swimming pool. Holly has done a beautiful job of balancing different textures—the murmuring and bubbling of streams, the dreamy piano, the muted metallic percussion. Under his reshaping, “Berlin During Winter” has a more definite arc, beginning with a lone icy vocal sample and then growing and fading in its intensity through adding and subtracting drum samples.

Sarah P. sings with a whispery urgency reminiscent of Björk’s vocals. The lyrics have a breathless, overwhelmed feeling to them. Strings of disconnected late night thoughts float by, not quite touchable for the listener. Phrases pop out and stay in my mind—“head explodes” “dreams and schedules” “why I got so sick”— but the overall meaning is hard to locate. The more I listen to the song the less I mind the vagueness though. It makes the lyrics of “Berlin During Winter” feel like a collage on the anxieties of modern living, channeling the fear and confusion that we all have inside of us. It also allows the scars of Berlin’s past to be evoked (but not directly named) in a way that propels me into reflection.

After a history of cover art that is arrestingly specific—think intimate details of flowers and biological-looking fractals—Sarah P. chooses a cover photo for “Berlin During Winter” that is purposefully blurred and inchoate. This image may not be as ‘pretty-girl’ or as easily digestible, but I think that it represents a real awareness of song’s content and character. It amplifies the confusion and insecurity that the song is rife with. The listener’s struggle to process the cover art mirrors the universal struggle to understand why dark things happen that inspired “Berlin During Winter.” Sarah P. talks about this compellingly in her release note for the single:

“Berlin During Winter is about all those things that I cannot wrap around my head. I ask you to take a moment and think of all the things that you cannot understand. All those things that are happening in the world and upset you, annoy you or leave you in shock.”

Superficial as it may sound, I was initially drawn to write about “Berlin During Winter” because of the title. I am a big believer in songs with city names in their titles: it allows the music to be grounded in geography, connected to the history and people of a real place. Sarah P. lets the title of “Berlin During Winter” spill over the music like a big bucket of paint, coloring the lyrics and melodies with new meaning. Each listener can bring their personal or imagined knowledge of Berlin to the listening experience, their brains jolting awake with visuals as well as sound. Making this connection between place and song shows Sarah P.’s willingness to progress and experiment as an artist. She is expressing herself but also looking beyond herself, putting her art in the context of history and expressing curiosity at human condition.