What to make of this crazy thing called life? And what constitutes its “truth?”
That’s what singer-songwriter-composer Mike Deni tackles on his new music as Geographer, his electro-acoustic project now solidly in its second decade of making atmospheric pop grounded in naked emotion and deep contemplation.
After unveiling a string of singles beginning in March with “I Don’t Remember It Starting,” Deni today announces that the fifth Geographer album, “A Mirror Brightly,” will be out Feb. 23 via Nettwerk. It’s the first since his behemoth (not to mention similarly probing) “Down and Out in the Garden of Earthly Delights,” released in 2021.
“I focused on my experience moving through the world: feeling like an outcast, being denied love in its many forms, and struggling to find meaning in an existence that looked increasingly like a void the more I peered into the glass,” the songwriter says of the album. “This record takes that existential shock but explores it through humanity as a whole, rather than just me as an individual.”
The title “A Mirror Brightly,” Deni explains, “refers to the lights of the phone shining in our eyes, blinding us to ourselves, obscuring the truth. … It also refers to the beauty of this life. That is the glimmer of hope on the record. It leaves the option open that one day we might turn the light back away from our faces to illuminate the darkness that surrounds us.”
Out this week, the airy “You Never Know” is the new Geographer single, a weighty but plaintive argument (“We will never know baby / It’s better that we don’t maybe”) delivered in Deni’s crystalline high-register voice. Like much of his catalog, it display’s Geographer’s penchant for transforming psych-emotional burdens into something archingly beautiful.
“All of life around us is a mystery. And we do our best to explain it,” Deni says. “But why are we so uncomfortable admitting that it’s all just our best guess? Why do people get punished throughout history, for making a different one? And are we that insecure in our beliefs that we have to galvanize them into facts in order to maintain them at all?
“That was my jumping off point for ‘You Never Know’ — exploring the remarkable human ability to lie to oneself. It’s always baffled me how we can convince ourselves of the most wild notions. All in service of what, discomfort with our own mortality, the apparent futility of our actions, the seemingly random and often cruel passage of events? We try so hard to figure out what’s going on. I certainly have, and it’s brought me mostly grief. Maybe it would be better to accept that we don’t, and never will, know.
“I don’t think it takes away from people’s beliefs, or devotion to those beliefs, to just admit that they’re just not sure. It’s a bit naïve, probably, but I believe that if faith were less anchored to reality, disagreements about it would be less threatening to the fabric of someone’s life. You can’t snip a balloon that has no string, but once you tie it to your hand, once it becomes a part of you, it also becomes vulnerable.”
There’s a thread running throughout the videos (four directed by Brit O’Brien, one by Monica Reyes) for Geographer’s 2023 singles. Movement (or in a couple cases, the lack of) conveys their respective themes, which, in sum, can be described as how we move through life. You might recognize the feelings.
||| Watch: The video for “You Never Know”
||| Also: Check out “The Burning Handle,” “Van Halen,” “One / Other” and “I Don’t Remember It Starting”