Album Review: Maya Hawke, “Moss”

When Maya Hawke wrote about all kinds of love on her debut album Blush, he had a way of twisting that metaphor. “You can’t scare me away,” she sang on “River Like You,” “I’ve tamed the moss on the rocks / And shaped the red clay.” The song stood out in a collection about growing up that was by turns wistful and whimsical, taking us through her formative years with diaristic lyrics that were sometimes lifted directly from her years. Hawke revisits this metaphor in its sequel, Moss, an album that reflects the same time period with a clarity of maturity and distance that always seems bigger than it really could be. “In the acting world, you’re often cast as 14 at 16 and 16 at 20 — the cool thing about it is that you know a lot more about what it means to be 14 when you’re 16,” Hawke said in a recent interview. . “So I’ve taken that ethos and used it in my music.” The result is a great record that showcases his growth, honing a solid indie folk style while keeping pace with Hawke’s poetic yet compelling songwriting.

Both sonically and structurally, Moss is more focused and cohesive than its predecessor, which used its diversity of sounds more as a playground to explore Hawke’s musical sensibilities. It began as a collaboration with Okkervil River’s Benjamin Lazar Davis, who is attuned to the rhythmic flow and emotional subtleties of Hawke’s poetry and helps bring it to life. As the songs grew to full length, they brought in guitarist Will Graefe and Phoebe Bridgers collaborators Christian Lee Hutson and Marshall Vore; Graefe also provides backing vocals on a few tracks, and Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy even makes an appearance on ‘Backup Plan’. Jonathan Low who mixed Taylor Swift’s folklorealso mixed Mosswhich clearly aims to sound like this album and Punisher. Rather than trying to reinvent what a trendy indie album sounds like in 2022, Hawke and his collaborators use this palette to evoke the quiet intimacy and playfulness that permeates his songwriting, each embellishment feeling like a deliberate extension of himself. stripped down debut.

First, there are well-written and melodically sounding songs that wouldn’t feel out of place on either of Swift’s 2020 releases. The pre-chorus of “South Elroy” offers a glimpse of Swift’s magic, but not enough to distract from the character of the song itself; “Crazy Kid” is incredibly close to Bon Iver duets, but doesn’t feel like cosplay. Moss is at its best when it zeroes in on the unique quirks and self-aware charm of Hawke’s songwriting. On “South Elroy,” he contrasts the light, tender tone of the music with lines like, “When we fought and we fucked and we fought / I was always on your side.” “Sweet Tooth” has an almost sing-song quality, but there’s a happy feeling on the surface – “I’m grateful for everything you put me through/ That’s the only reason I’m okay talking right now,” she sings. probably to his mother—he is undermined by ambiguous, dreamlike images of decay and loneliness.

What characterizes Hawke’s lyricism is partly this surrealist skill and Moss is shot through with a kind of giddy imagination that is delightful to watch. “Thérèse” is inspired by a 1983 painting by Balthus Teres is dreaming and drifts into a hazy meditation on personal autonomy and public perception; like the album’s catchiest songs, it feels like a gentle but slightly precarious dance. “Bloomed into Blue” is alliterated, but Hawke cleverly saves the most penetrating line for last: “I’ve got beliefs in my brain, I’m a bottomless sea.” A darkness pervades the album that rarely sounds like simple melancholy, and the rich arrangements offer more than decorative flourishes. Electric guitar flows through ‘Luna Moth’, a song about inflicting pain that blurs the line between memory and fantasy; On ‘Sticky Little Words’, the bitter performance is accompanied by a surge of bass harmonics that create an uncomfortable effect.

Hawke juxtaposes these shaky, restless moments with poignant vulnerability and determination. “I know you’ve got brilliance and a heart of stone. But all I really want is my own actor,” he admits on “Hiatus,” which avoids too much figurative language. Similarly, ‘Driver’ avoids hinting at the singer’s life in the spotlight through veiled references – made conspicuous by the fact that you don’t know exactly who he’s referring to when he imagines his parents “loosely hanging around in the back of a taxi”. but how he then pursues his thoughts into the story. “Now I’m going to tell you a secret,” he leans in at one point, though he’s clearly separated from whoever he’s talking to. “The secret everyone already knows/ You remind me of my father/ Your attitude/ Your disheveled clothes.” Before you know it, he takes us back to that famous proverb – “a rolling stone gathers no 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’ve got to kind of slow it down,” he reminds himself at the end of “South Elroy,” finding beauty in silence.