Chelsea Cutler is no stranger to writing vulnerable lyrics. Her debut album, “How to Be Human,” alongside her numerous EPs, especially “brent,” which features the hit collab song “You Were Good To Me,” each provides definite proof that Cutler understands her emotions and how to write from a place of pain. But her sophomore album, “When I Close My Eyes,” is different.
While it boasts the same bedroom pop production and vulnerable lyrics, “When I Close My Eyes” has a newfound sense of hope and joy that comes from Cutler coming into her own. In an interview with Consequence, Cutler explained that she has “always acted on emotion more than rationality.” As she began to grow older, she became aware that doing so is not always ideal — that is, until she read “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo,” which helped her realize that “never mind — emotions are great.”
How Fortunate We Are To Be Alive
Cutler’s acceptance of her emotions is evident on “When I Close My Eyes,” which spans the topics of unapologetic romance, anxiety, depression and recovery from heartbreak but maintains a tone of gratefulness throughout. Take the album’s title track, for instance, which is a reminder to remain present and satisfied in a world where the what-ifs and comparisons to other people often lead us down spirals.
She sings, “When I close my eyes I see / each of the hundred lives that I could live / and now it’s all enough / I know it’s all enough to be here with you now.” This acts as a direct juxtaposition to the isolation and grief she felt when she closed her eyes and relived past experiences with a lover in “New Recording 28 – Lions,” a song from her debut album.
Cutler continues this tone in “Someone Else’s Heaven,” where she reminds listeners that life is about the journey, not the destination, and many of the stressors in our lives are insignificant in the long run. She sings, “Baby don’t sweat it / your hell is someone else’s heaven.” If I’m being honest, I was expecting this song to be akin to “Somebody Else Will Get Your Eyes,” a piece about the simultaneous pain and joy in watching an ex find a new partner. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the different messages in this song.
The album’s closer underscores gratefulness as the overarching theme of the project. In “You’re Gonna Miss This,” Cutler talks about how quickly she grew up and how she now has everything she wanted as a child: “You wanted the water, well, you got an ocean.” This song is reflective and cautionary. She reminds herself to live in the moment because in the future, she will be missing where she is now.
Navigating a Breakup
Cutler’s knack for favoring emotionality over rationality is especially demonstrated in “Red Flags,” in which she mentions that she never looks for red flags in partners; instead, she believes in the stars and fate when it comes to relationships. Her track “the stars” from “brent ii,” in which she sings that the stars told her to stay as if her relationship was predestined, shares a similar message.
In the chorus of “Red Flags,” Cutler sings, “If I left tomorrow / I don’t think you would follow me,” but then explains that she will continue to wait for her lover because they are “the best thing that ever happened” to her. On the other hand, in “Walking Away,” an earlier song on “When I Close My Eyes,” Cutler refuses to blame either party for a relationship’s end, accepting that “sometimes two people don’t share the vision, yeah.”
It makes sense that Cutler is treading on the trickiness of interpersonal relationships: She has been dating her girlfriend for three years, but it was their one-month break that inspired her debut album, which centered around heartbreak. Now that they are back together, Cutler must have had ample time to reflect on their partnership. This pair of songs is the personification of the age-old adage “every relationship is different” — but by no means does this translate to a rocky relationship. In fact, the album’s opening track is an ode to her relationship: “‘Cause forever / never sounded good before I met ya … You make me want forever.”
Doing Something Different
The happy moments of Cutler’s relationship are also depicted in “You Can Have It,” a lighthearted and sun-kissed song about a vacation Cutler took with her girlfriend. In the song’s press release, Cutler explained, “There aren’t a lot of songs from a female perspective that come from a place of dominance,” and that she wanted to add a fun song like “You Can Have It” to her repertoire.
This would not be the first time that Cutler turned heads because of her gender. In the aforementioned Consequence interview, Cutler said that even though she writes and produces the majority of her discography, people have tried to portray her as a one-dimensional writer as opposed to a comprehensive artist. She hopes that her work will pave the way for women in production.
The album’s standout track, “Devil On My Shoulder,” is the piece that Cutler regarded as “the most meaningful and important song” she’s ever made. In an interview with NPR, Cutler explained that while she’s written about mental health struggles before, “Devil On My Shoulder” is the first time she recognized her depression as external rather than innate. She said that depression, to her, is not something to beat; rather, it is an ever-present entity that she has to learn to cope with. She sings that “I’m not the person I’m supposed to be,” finally distinguishing herself from her “chemical imbalance that [she deals with] on a mostly daily basis.”
All in all, “When I Close My Eyes” is an ode to all of life’s ups and downs as well as a reminder to enjoy the experiences we have and the memories we make. It seems that if the pandemic has taught Cutler anything, it’s to appreciate the mundane that she, and we, often take for granted. One of the album’s heartbreak songs, “Without You,” was revealed in a now-deleted Instagram story to actually be about missing touring — not a human being. The album is fun, reflective and a cheer for those struggling by seeing them and spreading hope.