A couple months ago, while mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, I paused on a video clip from an interview with Joni Mitchell. In the clip, Joni is talking about her use of “sus” or suspended chords — a type of chord that replaces the major or minor third with either a second or fourth, creating an unsettled feeling. Joni called these chords “chords of inquiry” for their emotional instability. Typically in Western music, songwriters resolve sus chords to a simple major or minor chord. But the visionary that she was, Joni didn’t stick to these rules. Instead, she would move from a sus chord to a sus chord to another sus chord, creating surprising and unstable progressions.
“Men need to solve things; to come to conclusions,” she says in the interview clip. “My life was full of questions. There were so many unresolved things in me that those chords suited me. I’d stay in unresolved emotionality for days and days.”
This clip, and Joni’s insistence on sitting with unresolved emotions stuck with me — and it was the first thing I thought of upon hearing “Bone of Contention,” the first single from Laura Fells’ upcoming debut album Safe From Me.
While it doesn’t use a multitude of sus chords, “Bone of Contention” has the same uneasy quality in its harmony that Joni talks about. An acoustic guitar begins the song with a sunny and simple major chord, before giving way to a crunchier harmony that caught me off guard the first time I heard it. The chord progression is unexpected, and reflects the song’s emotional quality.
“This song is about allowing myself to sit with my anger, and ending up finding clarity and power within it,” Laura Fell said in a press release about “Bone of Contention.” Instead of trying to explain or will away her anger, Fell sits squarely in it, her voice gliding around the phrase, “I have an axe to grind / a grudge to bear / a bone to pick with you.” The song combines a full band with soaring strings to create a haunting but gentle energy.
Fell found her way into songwriting at the age of 28, after almost a decade of writing poetry. The London-based singer-songwriter, who works as a psychotherapist by day, is set to release her debut album Safe From Me on Nov. 20.
“Bone of Contention” is the first release from England’s indie music blog-turned-record label Balloon Machine Records, founded earlier this year by Paddy Kinsella, Head of Press at Stay Loose and Philip Moss, Editor of Secret Meeting. The song is now available online for streaming.