Album Review: Maya Hawke, ‘Moss’

When Maya Hawke wrote about all kinds of love on her debut album to blush, he had a way of tangling it in metaphor. “You can’t scare me”, she sang on “River Like You”, “I tamed the moss on the rocks / and modeled the red clay”. The song stood out in a collection about growing up that was itself wistful and whimsical, taking us through her formative years with diary lyrics that were sometimes taken directly from those years of her life. Hawke revisits that metaphor in the sequel to him, moss, an album that reflects on the same time period with the clarity of maturity and distance, which always seems bigger than it could actually be. “In the world of acting, you’re often chosen to play 14 to 16, 16 to 20 – the great thing is you know a lot more about what it’s like to be 14 when you’re 16,” Hawke said in a recent interview. “So I took that ethic and used it in my music.” The result is a wonderful record that showcases his growth, refining himself in a particular style of indie folk, while keeping up with Hawke’s poetic but touching writing.

Both from a sound and structural point of view, moss it is more focused and cohesive than its predecessor, which used its variety of sounds as more of a playground to explore Hawke’s musical sensibility. It started as a collaboration with Okkervil River’s Benjamin Lazar Davis, who is in tune with the rhythmic flow and emotional subtleties of Hawke’s poem and helps bring it to life. When the songs blossomed into full-length, they enlisted guitarist Will Graefe as well as Phoebe Bridgers collaborators Christian Lee Hutson and Marshall Vore; Graefe also provides additional vocals on some tracks and Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy also makes an appearance on “Backup Plan”. Jonathan Low, who mixed Taylor Swift folklorethat is, mixed mosswhich clearly aims to sound like a cross between that album and Punisher. Instead of trying to decode what a trendy indie album sounds like in 2022, Hawke and her collaborators use this palette to evoke the quiet intimacy and playfulness that go through her writing, each adornment makes it feel like an expansion. deliberate of her debut stripped.

For one thing, there are well-written and melodically resonant songs that wouldn’t seem out of place in any of Swift’s 2020 releases. The “South Elroy” pre-chorus offers a taste of that Swiftian magic, but not enough to distract from the character of the song; “Crazy Kid” comes incredibly close to Bon Iver duets but doesn’t look like a cosplay. moss he is at his best when he focuses on Hawke’s unique idiosyncrasies and the conscious charm of songwriting. In ‘South Elroy’, he contrasts the light, delicate tone of the music with lines like, “When we had a fight and a fuck and a fight / I always took your side.” “Sweet Tooth” has an almost chanting quality, but the joyful feeling on its surface – “I’m thankful for everything you put me through / It’s the only reason I’m good at talking now,” she sings, probably to her mother. – is undermined by ambiguous and dreamlike images of decadence and loneliness.

What sets Hawke’s lyricism apart is in part this crack with the surreal, and moss it’s run through a kind of dizzying imagination that is delightful to follow. ‘Thérèse’ takes inspiration from Balthus’s 1983 painting Teresa Dreaming and adrift in a hazy meditation on personal autonomy and public perception; like the most gripping songs on the album, it feels like a gentle if slightly uncertain dance. The story of “Bloomed into Blue” is draped in alliteration, but Hawke cleverly saves the most penetrating line for last: “I have beliefs in my brain, I’m a bottomless sea.” There is a darkness looming in the album that rarely appears as mere melancholy, and the rich arrangements provide more than a decorative flourish. An electric guitar bleeds through “Luna Moth”, a song about inflicting pain that blurs the line between memory and fantasy; in ‘Sticky Little Words’, a bitter realization is accompanied by the rise of bass harmonics that create a haunting effect.

Hawke contrasts these agitated and restless moments with strong vulnerability and determination. “I know you bleed glitter and have a heart of stone / But all I really want is an actor of my own,” he admits in ‘Hiatus’, who in particular avoids using excessive figurative language. Likewise, “Driver” avoids alluding to the singer’s life in the spotlight through veiled references: what is striking is the fact that you don’t know exactly who she is referring to when she imagines her parents “waving loose in the back of a taxi “, but the way he then traces his thoughts into history. “Now I’ll tell you a secret,” she approaches at some point, even though she’s clearly separated from whoever she’s talking about. “A secret that everyone already knows / You remind me of my father / Your attitude / Your ruffled clothes.” Before you know it, she brings us back to that famous proverb – “a rolling stone does not collect moss” – and you wonder if freedom, this constant movement, brings more happiness than alienation. Either way, Hawke doesn’t let the confusion hold him back. “Oh my god, I have to slow down somehow,” she reminds herself at the end of “South Elroy”, finding beauty in stillness.