Everyone has an internal clock running in the background of their brains, cycling between tiredness and alertness, sleeping and waking, lightness and darkness. These circadian rhythms govern what it means to be human. With Circadian, Baltimore-based Letitia VanSant finds balance between righteous anger and radical empathy.
Following her debut Gut It to the Studs (released in 2018 and produced by Alex Lacquement), which established her as an artist to watch, VanSant dug deep into her songwriting and let the songs “force their way out of me.” She approached Nashville-based producer Neilson Hubbard (Mary Gauthier, Caroline Spence), who encourages musicians to follow their first instincts and build the songs from there. She came to Nashville, and Hubbard built a stellar group of session players in his Skinny Elephant studio: Will Kimbrough (Emmylou Harris), Michael Rinne (Emmylou Harris, Jack White), and Juan Solorzano.
VanSant initially planned a two-song EP, but the band’s chemistry revealed itself; by the end of the week, they had nine songs, mostly recorded in two to three takes, with several vocals lifted from scratch tracks. This lends the record an unvarnished and honest spirit.
Circadian begins with “You Can’t Put My Fire Out,” a song VanSant wrote during Senate hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice. It begins quiet and slow like a candle, building to a bonfire conflagration, a metaphor for reclaiming power in the face of assault. Make no mistake, this song is an anthem for survivors and the importance of having a voice; when VanSant sings, “I’m the one who’s speaking now / You can’t put my fire out” and “I won’t listen ’til you say my name / You can’t put my fire out,” she redirects the skein of power.
She follows with “Tin Man,” a character study written after she heard “The Lonely American Man” episode of NPR’s The Hidden Brain that examines how the changing presentation of masculinity leaves many men more isolated than ever before, resulting in loneliness, depression, and suicide. VanSant directly attacks the impact of the cultural predisposition to empty men of any emotion but anger, to deny that those emotions can be valid. She offers no answers, but leaves the listener wondering about the men in their lives who might hide behind gritted teeth, callouses, and a chorus of “I’m fine”s.
Each song on the record stands out in its own way: There’s the modern and honest lullaby of “Most of Our Dreams Don’t Come True” about growing and letting go, and lead single “Something Real” about the potential for music to connect people to something greater, written in the wake of Jimmy LaFave’s death. And then there’s “Spilt Milk,” a crushing and incendiary lament about neglecting loved ones.
The play of rage and compassion continues with record-ender “Rising Tide,” a takedown of the military-industrial systems that abuse their servicemen, contrasted with “Circadian,” a call for simplification and honest living.
Ultimately, Circadian is a record extolling the need for honesty, empathy, and a call to change society’s most destructive urges.