"I am held together by a string of pills." It's an abrupt and shockingly candid opening line, even for an artist like Slow Dakota. Those nine words set the stage for a song that feels more like a vignette from a confessional novel than a standalone track.
There's a distinctly hymnal quality to "I Am Held Together," with a meandering duet that gradually reveals the narrative over the first movement. This is a story about dependence on psychiatric medication, and while that isn't exactly the least-explored concept in art and literature, the matter-of-fact way Slow Dakota handles it is refreshingly direct and sincere.
There's nothing mysterious about the subject matter—our protagonist is entertaining the idea that these pharmaceuticals might be preventing them from facing their problems, and their life, honestly. "But I'm so tempted to make light / My regimen / And throw my Lexapro away / Would I die / Would my hands begin to shake / Like a church / Would my paint begin to flake / Or would I wake / And see my life as it really is?"
After a brief pause, the vocals withdraw and we enter a second, wholly instrumental movement that seems distinctly triumphant. With a resilient piano line at the forefront and swelling strings at its back, we're struck with the impression that perhaps our hero really did it—they freed themselves from whatever cognitive or pharmacological prison they found themselves in at the beginning of the song.
As the music fades, however, we are reminded of a second, darker possibility that would explain the persistent melancholy throughout the piece: the cold reality that many people who abruptly stop taking antidepressants end up committing suicide. The explicit narration never returns, so we're left to reach our own conclusions.
Perhaps what we take away from this song says more about us as listeners than it does about Slow Dakota, and that's exactly what I've come to adore about his music. Where "I Saw Christ Crying in Hermés" left me intrigued, "I Am Held Together" has left me speechless. I have a feeling there's quite a lot more where they came from.