As Yours Are The Only Ears, Susannah Cutler is reaching for a fresh start. For years, the singer-songwriter sauntered through her every day, stretching to please the people in her life and disconnecting as a means of survival. It wasn’t until early 2020 after taking on the tasks set out in The Artist’s Way, that Cutler experienced a reckoning. When was the last time she was truly honest with herself? And what is she so afraid of? Piercing through the gauze of an almost simulated existence, Cutler pieced together a face she could finally recognize in the mirror and began crafting what would become her second album, We Know The Sky. Here, her shadow no longer lags behind, but instead immerses itself to flourish into a beautifully complicated, truthful reality.
Cutler’s debut album Knock Hard (2018) introduced a gentle, lo-fi artist who crafted an intimate experience akin to a whispered discussion between trusted friends. She began crafting a foundation for healing, but it’s on We Know The Sky that Cutler truly builds momentum into a sincere actuality. Breaking through the barriers of trauma doesn’t have to be a jolting experience, and it’s Cutler’s ability to transfer the soft, delicate nature of her arrangements with the pains of growth that We Know The Sky finds its home. Like a blossom sprouting through the cracks in the city’s concrete, Cutler urges optimism through the determined catharsis of introspection.
“Dreamer” opens the album with droning mellotron and guitar plucks acting as a parting of clouds, inviting us into a world where we can explore what it really means to be ourselves. Cutler has always been inspired by the natural world, and returns to it often when she feels lost or overwhelmed; the sky in particular, serves as a constant among the chaos. “I'm deeply connected to the idea that nature––and the sky–– is where I'm going after this,” she says. “It’s gentle and comforting to me when I struggle with feeling comfortable or trusting others sometimes. I can just trust that nature is always there.”
It’s a motif that adorns We Know The Sky, as Cutler navigates a new internal territory. To make her way through the most treacherous parts of self-healing, she turns to the teachings of animals, and finds solace in their shared struggles. Take the loosened wanderings of “Horses” where gently driving strums, glistening flute and flowing, relaxed percussion decorates the frustrations of feeling confined or reliant on others. “I’m a horse you never meant to ride,” she sings over sprinkling electronic swells. Cutler says she was inspired by a chapter in The Little Prince, where the fox explains that should the little prince tame him, he’ll miss him. “I thought about how we do that with each other,” she says. “We’re wild horses until we tame each other and then there's something missing when that person goes away.”
The artwork painted by Cutler herself, presents an ethereal all-white horse, galloping through a magical moonlit mountainous scene, framed by weaving bluebells. It’s said that if you wear a wreath of bluebells you will only be able to speak the truth, and here the horse points directly towards them, shedding any sense of hesitancy. “I want to be free like that, I want to break free from mental illness,” Cutler says. “It’s definitely an alluring image.” On the album’s title track, finger-picked guitar and elegant strings pushes towards this freedom, as Cutler not only navigates but faces the difficult generational patterns passed down through family, and more
specifically, her relationship with her mom. This isn’t a searing, pointed-finger but rather a comfort in holding on despite it all, and the kind of closeness that can formulate through candid conversations.
On “Bad Habit” Cutler turns her eye towards those who have previously taken advantage of her sweet, trusting nature. Starting with a simple riff and a lone vocal, the song soon surges with harmonies and layered guitars, showcasing the strength in moving forward, and filling your world with the people who matter. “It was as real as the hands you used to shove me into the night,” she sings. “But I didn’t fall down, I will be alright.” It’s a notable moment of power and deliverance. This kind of power needn’t always arrive in swells of instrumentation: album closer “Love Me Too” is an ode to self-love, with Cutler’s vocal accompanied only by bird song, quiet guitar and sustained chords. “It’s a need to love yourself more and to stop putting the focus on everyone else,” she explains. “It’s going from the disappointment in someone else to bringing the attention back to your own self-worth.” The song’s ending is akin to watching a leaf pass you by in a stream: a quick but significant offer of clarity and serenity, an exhale after the burden of holding your breath for too long.
We Know The Sky is like walking through a darkened hallway into the light; the sun on tentative closed eyes, slowly opening to take in the new horizon. It’s an album that doesn’t shy away from the hard work it takes to walk past every door, and greet whoever you find in there. Teaming deliverance with delicacy, Cutler knows that getting to know yourself––the real you––means you will find both the light and the dark. But it’s not about shunning one for the other, but rather combining them to create a palette that is able to color the world in a way that you finally understand. “Songwriting for me has always been a way for me to say things out loud that I’m afraid to say otherwise,” she says. We Know The Sky is Cutler peeling away the mask of who she thought she should be, and instead embracing the beautiful, ever-changing kaleidoscope of who she actually is.