Annot(e)tations is a column by Austin Nguyen that shines a light on the hidden gems of recently released albums or singles that may have flown under your radar. This week, he discusses August Eve’s “Know Better.”
It was the summer after seventh grade, and the year I confessed my feelings to my first love. I laid on my couch, my hands cupped together in a sort of sideways prayer with the cheeks of my face on top of them, and I dealt with heartbreak the way most people do: listening to sad music (as if that would make the situation better).
Isn’t that ironic? The way a broken adolescent can make you feel so lonely in vast world full of people, like no one can understand the romance you dreamt about every night laying awake at God-knows-when p.m., yet somehow, that song knows. That song understands.
I had kept Eve in my peripheral vision for a while afterwards (I listened to her cover of “Moon River” and pirate — I mean, legally downloaded her cover of “Blue on Blue” onto my phone) before eventually unfollowing her for her radio silence.
But four years later, her songs like “haunting melodies” and “Twin Peaks” show once again Eve hasn’t lost any of her magic in making loss (of innocence, of those starry eyes) beautiful on “Know Better.”
An aside: I’m doing a bit of cheating here for this first entry because “Know Better” was actually released…um, five months ago. There’s no special anniversary for it right now, but a remix by Todd Edwards with accompanying visuals was released last week, so I figured, “Why not revisit the original?”
The track starts off in a lo-fi haze of synths with just enough static and reverb to make Eve’s mezzo seem ethereal yet clear, distant yet present.
“Maybe when it’s over / I’ll say that I saw it coming,” Eve sings to open the song in a should’ve-known-better head shake. But her guard of pride doesn’t last long as the chorus comes with a paradox (“Truth is, I lie to keep me from bleeding”) and a forlorn memory: “I break down before I tell you I’m leaving.”
A choir of her Lana Del Rey-esque ah’s and a stuttering beat join her on the second verse, echoing around her yearning for closure (“Always wanna know the / Reasons you leave things unsaid”) as if the song was now in a cathedral and not a studio.
And to an extent, isn’t it?
The bridge continues to swell, the dynamics terracing with the added takes of Eve’s voice, but the spoken reiterations of her words — “Hiding when I’m next to you,” “What am I supposed to do?” — are what envelop you from the lingering past, the sentiments at the confession stand of regret.
Eve distinguishes herself from other singers in the last chorus though. As she belts three-word phrases of “I break down” and “I know better” accompanied now by tambourine and maraca, the song reaches its emotional and sonic climax, but doesn’t feel forced or bombastic.
She doesn’t try to imitate the balladry of Adele or Sia and end the song with an excessive exclamt!on po!nt; it’s sparse instead of cloying, genuine instead of gratuitous, and it’s a meticulous artistry that permeates the song up to the very last note as hurt becomes hope:
I break down before I tell you I’m healing.