And there it was. A real tune. What came to my mind (which, at the time, was in the kitchen, waiting for coffee, listening to some DJ AI) right away is that sample (and is it even a sample?) in BBC's 2007 mix of Burial's groundbreaking dubstep: "It's was like people were forgetting they were making tunes."
The line appears at the end of one of the many heartbreakingly crepuscular Burial tracks that—for reasons still a complete mystery to his disciples—his label Hyperdub never released, "Feral Witchchild." The tune that this year remembered what it was to be a tune? "Spiraling." Dropped by Bose x NME during SXSW 2023. All of it (vocals, lyrics, production) by New York City's Danielle Ponder. Three months into the year and we already have the best song of the year.
Built on a 123 beat punctuated by one grave, gripping, gospel downbeat, the tune opens with this prayer: “Mercy on me, my lord/Found a man who said he’d be good to me, lord/And I lost myself again.” This is some powerful stuff. Ponder, who is a public defender by training, but grew up in a music family, and last year released a superb debut album, Some of Us Are Brave, is, in a sense, re-sacralizing a form of music, soul, that essentially split with the church during its commercialization in the 1950s. I have written about this in the past. This is what happened with soul: an immaterial God (or the Father) became, on the pop charts, a flesh-and-blood lover, a person who had or broke your heart. The divine fell to Earth. The church became a dance floor.
In the soul age, the line would be: "Mercy on me, I found a man who said he'd be good to me, and lost myself again." That is how post-church Aretha Franklin would have sung it. Post-church Sam Cooke would have done exactly the same, but with, of course, a change of gender. Ponder brings God back into the picture. Gospel and soul are reunited in lyrics that move with mournful horns, a melancholy melody, and ghosts that enter and exit the track like wind passing through the leaves of a moonlit forest. She is praying. No doubt about it. She wants Him to listen to her. She wants that man. Romantic longing returns to heaven. Mercy on me.