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  AMY WINEHOUSE AT THE BBC

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  Arial East Tries Harder

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Arial East Tries Harder

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Arial East TRY HARDER. Partisan Records

Background

Warm and wistful, unvarnished and intimate, Aerial East makes anthems for sitting in our own groundlessness and finding a specific peace within it. Her new album, TRY HARDER, draws from East’s teenage years in suburban Texas, resulting in a beautiful ode to those of us who feel like our edges are rough, that perhaps we don’t always quite fit in.

Through simple lyrics and a conspicuous absence of percussion, TRY HARDER is a tight yet eclectic collection of songs, both sonically and emotionally. East dives into what she has known - adolescence, heartbreak, coming into a new social consciousness, and managing a perpetual feeling of remoteness - in the hopes to tell stories we don’t hear often.

On album highlight ‘Katharine’, East offers a touching reflection on a once meaningful friendship now long faded. The string-laden ‘The Things We Build’ is simultaneously weightless and profound, as East struggles to find a sense of belonging and ownership in both a relationship and life in general. Elsewhere, acclaimed Brooklyn-via-Norway singer Okay Kaya lends guest vocals to the delicate and cutting ‘Jonas Said’. East visualized ‘Try Harder’ as feeling like the desert at night, explaining: “I wanted it to be healing and calm, something you can listen to even if the world is ending. Western, but quiet and intimate. I wanted it to have gravity but didn’t want it to be heavy.”

https://youtu.be/W_CyNxts4pA

“It’s about being on the outside and noticing how some things that seem easy for others might be harder for me. I wrote it quite a while ago and have been playing it live for several years with different arrangements. As the album started to come together, I realized how well this song fit into the emerging theme of alienation. My hope with this record is that people can connect over shared experiences. Maybe even especially experiences of isolation and alienation.”

As the daughter of a military family, East spent her late childhood in Europe and teenage years in Abilene, Texas. After dropping out of community college, she moved to NYC where she’d meet a group of musicians whom she would come to befriend and collaborate with including Okay Kaya, Kelsey Lu, Wet and more.

Among many films, artists, and musicians, East drew inspiration from 20th minimalist century painter Agnes Martin. “I wanted the record to feel harmonizing to people. When I look at an Agnes Martin painting I feel realigned,” adding, “I wanted to make something like that.”

A departure from her previous work, on TRY HARDER East’s delicate voice takes centre stage, creating an unadorned intimacy between her and the listener, a reflection of her live performances. “I wanted the album to be easily translatable into a live show,” she says.

“‘Rooms’ was about a very painful time for me, but it also has a lot of silliness that I still relate to…With ‘Try Harder’ I’m moving away from fantasy.” The end result is an ode to those of us who feel like life sometimes is a little bit harder, that we don’t quite fit in, that our edges are rough. “I grew up moving around in the military, so I never really had roots anywhere. TRY HARDER is an album-length anthem buried in our own discomfort and groundlessness and finding a specific peace with it. I’m just trying to figure out where the space is for me. Where can I dig in.” And she has.

https://www.aerialeast.net/

Review

Try Harder

You step into the day
It’s Sunny and cold and I am quiet
The wind blows your hair this way
Your eyes are wet but you’re not crying

You’re beautiful and I see you
smiling along with the half moon
and I’m afraid
You make it look so easy
Lately I get the feeling

I gotta try harder
I gotta try harder
try
try harder

The record opens in dead silence before a lone guitar sound builds and a fragile, beautiful angelic voice enters. It’s a compelling opening gambit. East’s voice hits high notes with ease, at times hitting falsetto without tiring the listener. There’s also expression and the evidence of a singer/songwriter with a quite wide vocal range. The song is emotion-laden with good melody to anchor it in one’s mind. ‘The Things We Build’ has a lighter tone and verges on a child’s lullaby anchored by another strong melody. The backing vocals are pure heaven.  ‘Katherine’ is a moving description of a past relationship that is recognised much later as more valuable than it first seemed:

From a distance
she looks so much different
I loved her then
but I was young I didn’t
understand what we meant to each other
She took care of me
I took care of my lover

Katharine
you’re still in
the east village
When I needed you, you
took me into your room
You showed me that
my fate wasn’t in Texas
I haven’t seen you
since times Square was a zoo
years ago

The song boasts another beautiful melody along with a stripped-back instrumental arrangement which has the effect of projecting and providing clarity to this fragile voice. ‘Doin’ Somethin’ is a laid-back romantic ballad that sound like an intimate conversation between lovers and is so effective:

You made me cold
when you spoke for me and
you didn’t know
that you had even

You made me hot
breakfast in the morning
Things you don’t know
but you’re doin’ somethin’
Right

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Strings come to the fore in ‘I Love Dick’  as East reflects again on past relationships. Throughout this record the feeling of truth and sincerity are strong with music and voice being the compelling means of communication:

When I met you
you were so cool
You didn’t have anyone
not like me and my husband

When you looked at me
I felt sexy
and I realized
it’d been 7 years

This is a beautiful record distinguished by a distinctive, fragile and expressive voice communicating via simple songs with the most judicial instrumental arrangements. Every song hits the emotional mark. The end result is a moving and relaxing listen that for me fits so well into the current dreadful scenario of disease, poverty, war, exclusion and extremism. It’s a fine tonic and a beautiful record.

4.5/5

https://www.aerialeast.net/


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