I first found Subok sometime last year, though I can’t say for sure how or when I came across her on Spotify. What I do remember is being struck by her strong vocals and the overall melancholy mood of what was, at the time, her newest work (in fact, a handful of songs off of it have been living in the playlist I reserve for rainy weather for a while now).
2020’s Can You Save Me? is described as being “a story about ‘Being left alone’.” Furthermore, it’s about dealing with loneliness – coming to terms with the fact that, at the end of the day, the only person we have for life is ourselves. Subok delivers this message in a number of ways, at times belting powerfully through heavy rock songs and at others turning somber and reflective, warbling to jazzy tunes.
For this review, I’ve chosen to group the songs together based on similarities in their sound profile rather than go through them chronologically the way I usually do. However, we’ll still start with the first track:
“Still Left Alone,” which I would argue is the second title track since it also has an MV, introduces us to Subok’s more powerful, emotionally evocative rock ballads. It’s bold, with a full-bodied sound that conveys her frustration at being alone exceptionally well. Her longing is evident in her voice as she struggles with her futile and unmet desires to not be alone, or at least not feel the pain of loneliness. Although I can’t give a more in-depth reading into the song’s message than this without access to the lyrics, Subok manages to create the melancholy, yearning atmosphere well enough to transcend the need for language.
This song is a great introduction to not only the album but this first category, which is composed of powerful, raw rock ballads featuring the piano, electric guitar, and drums heavily.
“Rain Falls,” track three, is piano-driven early on, and Subok’s voice ebbs and swells, much like a storm changes in intensity. She allows herself to succumb to vocal fry at times, adding to the sense of desperation that can come with feeling alone and desiring companionship. I would say this track has the most noticeable rock influence, so if that’s your thing, definitely check it out.
“Can You Save Me?” is the second to last and titular track of the EP. It’s sung entirely in English, and Subok leans into some of her more delicate vocalisations as she implores someone to save her from her lonely, seemingly hopeless situation. Her voice grows stronger when she passes the second chorus, at times growling out notes aggressively, but by the end it’s once again just Subok and the piano, warbling out one final plea: “can you save me?”
“I am losing my faith
I’m losing my strength
Waiting for you to come
So can you hold me
And save me from here?”
The second category truly starts with track two, “Love We Never Had.” This category is more jazz and blues influenced, and is where Subok tends to utilize more adlibs and flex her vibrato. This track is a departure from its predecessor, taking a much slower pace and creating a melancholy atmosphere as Subok reminisces. By the end, she is almost sighing out the lyrics, as though devoid of strength due to her powerful emotions. If you want to get a taste of Subok’s vocal range, this song is definitely one to give a listen.
“Not My Story” has the same elements but has more power behind its delivery, leaning into ballad territory. Subok goes from strong, belting vocals to those same mournful sighs as heard in “Love We Never Had.” This track also features the electric guitar, which provides even more of a structural backbone.
“How Can You Be Alright” is jazzy but doesn’t really fit into any of my previous categories. However, it most closely resembles the tracks in category two. It falls squarely in the middle of the EP and as a result breaks the atmosphere just a bit, opting for a dreamier tone. The song opens with almost glittery synth, something which isn’t heard anywhere else on the EP.
However, once the drums make an entrance it begins to lean back into more familiar territory. Subok’s vocals are calculatedly weak sounding here, soft and gentle, although she does emphasize her emotional peaks with stronger singing. In fact, she has a burst of energy towards the end of the song, before ending it all on a sigh, backed by the same synth that brought us in.
“Can I Be Happy Again” actually bridges the gap between my first and second category, making it a particularly interesting closer as it brings together Subok’s strong points extremely well and truly feels like a culmination of all the previous themes and stylings.
After everything Subok has gone through in the EP, after the long journey through loneliness and the struggles which come with it, she can’t help but wonder if it will ever end. As such, the EP can cycle through once more, from the powerful, raw emotions of the beginning to the more resigned ending.
Overall, Subok’s EP may have released at the perfect time, during a year in which many of us experienced loneliness which was previously unthinkable. On Can You Save Me?, she captures perfectly the ways in which we respond to being alone – desperation, resignation, bittersweet reminiscences – without becoming repetitive. Each track on the EP stands well alone, but together they weave an emotionally evocative tale of what it means to be, and feel, alone.