Eliza Rickman: A Cockeyed Pop Song

May 23, 2012

Eliza Rickman's "Pretty Little Head" is simple yet intricate, a contradiction which helps give it the feel of a nursery rhyme that's just starting to teeter off the rails. Except for the bridge, it's built entirely around two chords, a minor/relative-major pair that trade off inexorably in two-bar cycles without regard to differentiating between the verse and the chorus.

There's little mistaking the latter, though. In its simplicity, borderline childlikeness, and unblinking, nearly subliminal peculiarity, the chorus is like a disconcerting "Ring Around the Rosie." Rickman's vibrato in the line "Where's your mother?" hints at something unbalanced, as the question takes on a more menacing cast than the words themselves imply.

All the while, the arrangement works hard to keep listeners from finding their bearings for long. However ornate the sounds might be — with the self-counterpointing harp, violin, and flourishes of light percussion — the pieces aren't evenly situated, sitting exactly where they should. Instruments dip in and out, and their departure doesn't return the song to neutral, so much as it leaves the song even more cockeyed for having been there in the first place. "Pretty Little Head" is an itch that can't quite be scratched, with Rickman simply smirking off to the side.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit