Paige Beller - I'll Be Better (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Paige Beller

I'll Be Better (2021)

Sofaburn records

                In 2017, Paige Beller released the album, Paige Beller and Her Friend Peter. The closing song on that album, “Terms of Agreement”, remains one of the best breakup songs I’ve ever heard. On it, Paige sings, “We’ll write out our contract, our terms of agreement. You keep the apartment, I’ll keep the resentment. You keep the friends we had, I’ll keep the bars.” That lyric showed someone who, at the end of a relationship, was giving up everything that held stability and keeping all the things that held instability. Four years later, her latest album, I’ll Be Better, holds growth for her musically and personally.

Paige’s previous albums had been largely guitar driven numbers, which never dove face first into Americana but felt like songs that were written in a bedroom late at night while roommates were asleep. Her latest album opens these sounds up, with more contemporary studio techniques that take her already great songwriting abilities and builds on them. The fact she never buries the song under these techniques, but uses them to life the songs up shows a maturity that many songwriters don’t have. She uses the studio not as crutch, but as another instrument in her musical arsenal.

The second song on the album, “Failed Attempts and Cigarettes”, features Jason Watkin on synthesizer. With the use of the synth combined with lyrics like, “I don’t need you ripping me apart; I do that on my own just fine.” The song takes on the feel of a mid-2000’s Saddle Creek band that wasn’t afraid to let everyone know that they have Portishead albums in their record collection. Like many songs in Paige’s repertoire there’s a look back at past failures and how they’ve created a situation in the present that isn’t what one could call ideal. But, there is also a glimpse forward at the future and how there’s still hope there. It’s a welcome growth, not just from an artistic standpoint, but also from a human standpoint too. As much as we all love sad songs we can relate to, the songs that offer that there’s another side to that sadness are the ones who don’t just get us through. But, end up getting themselves through as well.

The theme of looking forward and pushing for self-growth continues on the next track, “Brautigan”, has some of the best lyrics on the whole album. The song starts with line, “You took your time, thought she would wait forever for you to get your shit together. She’d wait forever. You love her so. So what, she doesn’t know. Get your shit together.” She later sings, “You broke a glass, tried to glue it together. Now it still won’t hold water, but it sure looks pretty. And she’ll hold you accountable. She said you fucking broke it. And now you have to deal with it, deal with it without me.” This is a love song. It’s not a pretty love song. It’s not the kind of love song most people will play at their weddings. But, it’s a love song written by someone who wants to be better. It’s a love song about someone who loves the other person enough to hold them accountable. It’s a love song for someone who loves another person enough to not continue to enable them. May we all be lucky enough to find this kind of love someday.

The musical and lyrical growth continues throughout the album, especially on other highlights like “Limping for the Win”, “Constantly Uncomfortable”, and album closer “930”. This album is an artist not just coming into their own, but doing so with confidence to experiment with their sound and challenge theirs fans to join them on this musical adventure. And the songs are so good, anyone would be hard pressed to say no.

This albums true success though, it’s an album written by someone in love that sees how complicated the word love can actually be. These are songs about recognizing you can be loved, that you are simultaneously comfortable and terrified of what you’re feeling, the worry that you won’t know how to reciprocate that love, and that fear that just because you can be loved doesn’t mean you always deserve to be. Which is why the album’s title, I'll Be Better, doesn’t come off like a last ditch promise to someone ready to leave, it comes off like a promise to herself. A promise, she is bound and determined to keep.