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The Beauty of Mia Dyson’s New Album

Writer and broadcaster Lorin Clarke details the life-changing moment that led to Dyson’s wonderful new album, ‘Tender Heart’

Mia Dyson

Brendan Willing*

There’s something electric and urgent driving Mia Dyson‘s latest album, Tender Heart. Something momentous, that has her plunging open-heartedly into the magical, terrifying, mundane, mysterious business of life.

It started with an earthquake.

Karl – Dyson’s husband and writing partner – felt the earth move one evening during the pandemic, literally, when a quake rumbled through their LA home. He heard, moments later, Mia calling his name from the bedroom. Entering the dark room, he spoke to her, heard nothing, touched her motionless hand, and fumbled for a light. That was when he saw Mia “slumped against the wall,” he said later. “Your eyes looked like they were made out of wood.”

For Karl, the story was earthly and confusing and desperate. The earthquake. The darkness. The wooden eyes. His own muttered pleas. He found himself breathing air into a body that had stopped breathing, unaccountably, upon experiencing an earthquake. Karl remembers feeling the responsibility of bringing Mia back to life, thanking her over and over “for coming back to me” when she started breathing again. It seemed, he said, “Like you were in another place, like you were not here anymore. It was really clear. I’ve never seen anybody do that before.”

Mia did leave. She was somewhere else. She was, as she puts it, “Far, far away, and in darkness and nothingness. Nothing was wrong.” She came back into her body as she was revived, “slowly and terribly,” feeling completely pinned down. Technically, she was dead. Her heart had stopped beating (she was later diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia and treated with a defibrillator implanted in her chest) and the pain and confusion of coming back was intense.

Being able to recover while taking her time to create Tender Heart with her cherished collaborators has been a joy. Syd Sidney (drums), Dan Wright (vocals, bass), and producer Scott Hirsch are friends and creative partners in the real-time musical processing of one small moment in time that almost prevented the album from happening at all.

Dyson’s work has always hinted at visual, textured worlds and relationships that could be anybody’s. Like Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” or the short stories of Raymond Carver, her work nudges us to piece together a story. And that voice, her voice, implies a life tuned to the hum of what it is to be human.

Tender Heart comes right at you with this and more in its opening track, “Dare” — a deep, golden whisky of a song that somehow also skips along as though it has its hand out the car window dipping and weaving through time.

Written before Dyson’s near-death experience, there is a jaw-dropping prescience to this piece. Maybe Dyson knew, on some deeper level, as she wrote these words, what was going to happen: “The ground beneath my feet will always be shaking,” she sings. “The blood under my skin will always be racing.” It’s when the song builds to “the death inside of me will always be waiting” that things start to feel truly spooky.

It’s a profound album. It’s gentle and thoughtful and you can listen to it without knowing any of the depth of experience and love behind it. The love song, “Golden Light”, inspired by the golden light between Mia and Karl at the portal between life and death, could just be about a Sunday morning, light pouring through the window. Bare feet padding about on the cold floor. A stillness and a slowness and the kind of love it’s easy to take for granted.

The crafted simplicity of this album – the lyrics, the easy, rolling musical journey of each track – hints at larger, more magnificent, harder, tougher, deeper things. In that way, it’s less like a series of short stories. It’s like poetry. A poet, breathing life into a poet, beaming joyful, unfettered love out to the rest of us.

Perhaps the most profound song on the album is “Thank You”. Living life after a moment of death showed Dyson that there weren’t too many words she would have regretted not saying. They have become in “Thank You”, a life-affirming, honest, surprisingly joyful chorus: “Thank you. I love you. Forgive me. I forgive you.”

Mia Dyson’s Tender Heart is out now.

Lorin Clarke is an award-winning writer, broadcaster, and columnist. More information about her work can be found here