Sail by Summer describes itself as “melancholic,” but its recent single “Facing Dullness” doesn’t immediately portray the Norwegian-Danish duo’s sorrow. Under stuttering synth splashes, pitter-patter drum work, and squelching guitar notes often blanketed in reverb and phaser, “Facing Dullness” sounds convivial on first impression, just as the heftily produced art of a long-running, mainstream radio synthpop duo might. The facade quickly fades, though, thanks to metonymous frontman William’s wistful singing and the minor-key chord melody on which keyboardist Jens Kristian builds the song.

As William sings, “The night is young and words are unspoken” to open “Facing Dullness,” Sail by Summer pulls off the mighty trick of convincing listeners that the song might just be a perfectly chipper, sky-bound synthpop tune. It only takes one more line to identify Sail by Summer’s self-described melancholy, though: “Let’s maintain peace/’til morning has broken,” sings William, implying that those unspoken words from a line earlier weren’t, as expected, the feelings that potential new lovers hold in for fear of rejection.

“It’s one big mess and your soul is your token,” he continues, using a small image to deftly portray incredibly massive stakes. Although some of the imagery he uses shortly thereafter might be more commonly found in optimistic songs—”out of the bloom/into the wild”—the narrative he establishes details a deflating relationship without outlining the specifics of the situation. Images he uses later—bankers, investors, faith—maintain the song’s focus on general situations instead of a particular moment, making sure that the lyric before the song’s cathartic outro begins scans as majestic rather than contrived: “I’m facing dullness/in the arms of war.”

Indeed, “Facing Dullness” sometimes paints love as a battlefield, an area that can be full of isolation, even when sunlit. Throughout the lyric video for “Facing Dullness,” viewers are treated to similarly bright but desolate settings: industrial parks, sparsely populated woods, etc. Just as with the song itself, the video masks its despondency with joy, a dichotomy that seems to be Sail by Summer’s cornerstone.

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