Flatlands & Mountain People – Chelsea Wolfe and Super Furry Animals

I want flatlands
I never cared about money and all its friends
I want flatlands…

Chelsea Wolfe, Flatlands

One of the things about writing this piece following the passing of Mark Lanegan, that unique American voice of song and words – was that it allowed me to come across this song by Chelsea Wolfe.

I want flatlands, I don’t want precious stones
I never cared about anything you’ve ever owned
I want flatlands, I want simplicity
I need your arms wrapped, hard around me

A song that has visited and re-visited in the time since, primarily in the form of this fan-mixed track that combines two versions to turn it into a duet between Wolfe and Lanegan. A beautiful song, the duet brings their voices together to form a sublime unity of expression through the male and female voice as a kind of exemplar. It is no wonder it has 1.4m views at time of writing.

I want open plains and scattered trees
I want flower fields, I want salty seas
I want flatlands, soft and steady breeze
Bringing scents of lined-up orchard trees
Dripping heavy with pears and dancing leaves
I want flatlands, will you go there with me?

Lanegan’s original cover version (from his 2013 album Imitations) is strong enough and his feeling for the song shines through, yet it is when his voice is paired with Wolfe’s as a recombinant counterpart that his contribution to the song can really ignite. It lifts them both within the song, although for me Wolfe’s live version (above) where her voice is alone (and not doubletracked as on the album) is simply exceptional.

When it’s said in the dark
And you know it’s always there
When it’s dead in our heart
But your mind is unafraid

Songs can be powerful and evocative in different ways; sonically, lyrically, in arrangement and voicing, appealing to and affecting different parts of our responses to music and motion and feeling and emotion (all of which can be carried by or expressed through sound). As such, when so many of these things come together including lyrical thought of nuanced understanding, the outcome can be transformational to experience.

Wolfe Live (Photoshop AR)

When it’s said in the dark
And you know it’s never coming back
When it’s there in your heart
In your mind, you set it free

In the end it feels like the beauty of this song also comes through its understanding and lucidity. Part of its extraordinary power comes from the fact that it is a yearning for the place that is to come, from the place of loss (“and you know its never coming back“). Yet unlike many songs or poems in the mode of the lament, it dares to position somewhere that one might set out for. In ontological terms, the Flatlands in question, cannot simply be a place – it must also partly be a space of being, or a position in the modes of being.

I want flatlands, will you go there with me?

It’s also that this trajectory starts in a straightforward rejection of the mores and values of the times of ‘precious stones‘ and those things owned, locating the song in the heart of the modern space for most of us, and setting this as oppositional to a different form of living, the titular Flatlands.

Wolfe in fact brings a strength within this song – that is its own answer to the storm from which the longing appears to emerge. “But your mind is unafraid“. The dream and longing there are not for the precipitous or the forested, but for the rural, the smell of orchards, flower fields and dancing leaves. It is the return to a natural space for living and encounter with nature. While under something of a deluge in the feeling of the deadness to which it is also responding “When its dead in our heart” it is motive, towards escape and simultaneously reserves its most purposive invoking for its last… “In your mind, you set it free“. This aligns the song with its final words to freedom in the invariable context of what we hold onto and what we relentlessly hold onto or incubate which also incubates something within ourselves. To set it free (of all those ‘its’ Wolfe invokes) is the direction of unlinking problematic adjacencies or occurrences while also iterating where possible, that other things be free also.



While in its landscape, Wolfe appears to be invoking towards the bucolic and agrarian, there is still yet a way in which there is a different mode to the idea of flatlands. There in its name, the un-declining, un-ascending – a call out also to the idea of the plateau it’s also interesting to look at the song’s structure. It completely eschews the traditional pop/rock structuring of alternating verses and choruses, instead maintaining a two-part structure of halfs, the first a near literal sonic plateau of a repeated refrain over several verses, before finally breaking out onto a four chord chorus style movement. It quite adriotly side-steps the normative peak and valley of the pop song or ballad and alights instead on two musical parts which equate and yet do not correspond back and forth, but still utterly and completely inform each other. In this respect, it is like moving from one flatland to another, more formed and corresponding.

* *

Running alongside this beautiful work has been a thought about how this song might relate to another, by Super Furry Animals, their 2nd album song-mutant, Mountain People. The quasi-anthem of geological social minority peoples, on the outside through a Welsh-Celtic social history and yet for figurative (as well as literal) mountain dwellers all over.

So while Wolfe takes us to the idea of the plateau through her invocation of the Flatlands arrived at through courage and letting go (and setting free) – there is still yet the socio-normative exterior that SFA invoke through the connection with the intensity and the social-instance of being the people of the mountains. The terrain that juts-difficulty in the sky and (generally) obviates the conditions of ‘prime’ terrains occupied with the people and labour-harvesting economies of capitalist cities and conurbations.

They don’t care about you and me, obviously
No not us, we’re the mountain people
So far away from those tree-lined streets
Look so neat, not for us
No fat chance, we’re the mountain people

They’ll seek us in the valley
They’ll seek us on the plain
They own the milk and runny honey
And they’re not quite the same, and we

An almost immediate lyrical component, which adds a dimension and takes us a step away from Wolfe’s Flatlands, is that there is an opposition at work here. The ‘tree lined streets‘ (so neat) are a place of being sought and hunted ‘They’ll seek us on the plain‘. Thus, the freedom required in ‘Flatlands’ is given a socio-sectional coordinate in the oppressed/normalised and assimilated, deftly and likewise implying a prescriptive socially informed or inhabited cognition, contrasted perhaps necessarily with those living ‘under fantasy oak trees‘ – the makers of unique sparks. It is in fact, a beautiful paean to the life at the edges of the dominant social power mode. A life in contact with intense creativity and nature as key components.

Live together under fantasy oak trees
In the dark, we make sparks
So unique, we’re the mountain people
Curiosity comes to plead with me
Vanity strangles me, pulls me
Shakes me down, we’re the mountain people

They don’t care about you and me, obviously
Hand-me-down culture
Waiting for the vulture
Yes, yes, yes, we’re the mountain people
Hibernation comes so early this year
Dig the peat, pile it high
Let it dry, one last chance at ignorance
No fat chance, we’re the mountain people

One short blast was followed by two longer ones
Short blast, long blast
Coming from the outcast
Put me in a deep freeze
And I’ll sneeze, with the mountain people
From a distance I can see them
Pacing (marching) upstream
Slowly, ruthlessly, and then steady
Nets and cages, open, ready
Long-term memory
Soothes me, worry me
Take me, break me
Any way you fancy


Screencap (photoshop AR)

Ultimately, these two artists and their fascinating songs, give us two valuable aspects of understandings, related but touching differently in meaning and context. Wolfe’s Flatlands, rather than being the geographical variety (though not obviated from being high plateaus in terms of added consistency) are the intensive plateaus of having moved beyond the abjection of being subject (and subjectified) to the remorseless bandings and thrashings of the difficulties of life, arrived at as one might a journey, ongoing and yet consistent in mentality, approach and zen-ness. One might almost imagine that that which Wolfe references ‘set it free…‘ might almost be life itself.

Mountain People by contrast, is in a becoming with its geology, while also tracing a lineage of mountain rebels and using this historical position as ontological (‘long term memory’). It also plays to the minor, from its roots of the Welsh as a seceeded people, maintaining the rebel song of an identity tied specifically to the terrain, and to the terrains of magnitude and sublime power. ‘In the dark, we make sparks, so unique, we’re the mountain people’. It is also the line of flight of the societal-minor mode (the ‘Welsh’ within the ‘English-British’).

That line of flight is resonant correspondingly in the song’s repetition-led break out in the final section. The staccato break of rhythm near the beginning of each verse of the song, appearing as a structural motif, is eventually used to build a dirge-field of repetitive, staccato guitar riffing. The feeling of a break-out is paramount, something that has been toyed with in earlier verses, when the band hold the rhythm, teetering over those powerful voids, before returning to the melodic flow.

When they do eventually begin to break out. One of the archly-effectively things about the refrain they are using is that it is – with its gaps – as much a refrain of spaces as it is the striking of the chords themselves. It uses the spaces as a statement and expression. The spaces through which there resonates. It is also these spaces through which the techno freak-out arrives via some arpeggiated gurgling dance riffs. While this final sonic expedition in the song, is set up by singer Gruff Rhys ”One short blast was followed by two longer ones…‘ (coming from ‘the outcast‘) – this sense emerging – you have to break out. The bolts of creative, explosive freedom…

SFA; 2015-16 reunion tour – photoshop AR

There is a radicality implied in the reality of a break-out, something that is never simply sonic in nature, and something which has been generated (is being played ‘live’) as a means through which to also break out, break out of the psychosis of modern pathological consciousness (in its primary modes and instantiations). ‘..Lay orangely out of its head‘ is part of the vocal sample which is repeated as the song progresses towards its chaotic sonic-tidal wave finale.


Somtimes we are gripped by the thought that our artists are charged with the responsibility to go beyond the confines of ordinary mental and emotional space-times and return with carved and energetic offerings to empower people with new possible realities of meaning and actuality in their lives. Such undertakings, from the compromised starting point of how we mostly understand the world and its structures, can be hazardous, can involve different forms of getting out of one’s head, while also pitting them against the agents of normativity – impersonal consistencies of reality control that emerge through people’s behaviours and reactions. So when we arrive at those who carry through with the courage and inspired endeavour to impact our understanding and perception, we can understand the extent to which we are mountain people, while the mountains themselves are a call to arms, as a warrior of the heart, adept towards navigating beyond their own mind, the sphere of creativity, a dreaming that runs through fantasticalised trees, and vaunted by curiosity – a connection with the deep past, soothed by a deeper form of living set free.

Sometimes just knowing these places and positions are there, awaiting our consistent arrival, can be an important and consoling aspect of life, an ingredient in the setting of our directions, the invisible sign posts that transect the inside and outside of socio-normative, capitalist reality. De-laminating and melting, offering us the chance and understanding to forge and re-forge, the tools of our own being, those specialised offerings of openings and sustenances, rhythms and endeavours of the heart, creating being in ever more transformed and possible inclinations and capacities. The very spark of the moment, extended as to be without end.