Album review: Aerial East – Try Harder

Rarely has a cover version suited the covering artist more than Aerial East’s sparsely arranged, haunting re-imagining of Kate Bush’s ‘Running up that Hill’. Released last September, it acted as the perfect precursor to new album Try Harder, which occupies the same quiet emotional space.

The record simmers with introspection and unanchored air. This perhaps isn’t surprising when you discover that the young Aerial spent her military family childhood in various European locations, her teenage years in west Texas, and is now a resident of Brooklyn.

Title track and opener ‘Try Harder’ glides in with heavily delayed acoustic guitar and sets out her stall. There’s an efficiency about the central 3-note phrase, over which she stretches out a cleverly concocted song. The chorus has the repeated title sung in a disquietingly, yet not wince-inducingly, high register.

Upcoming single ‘Katharine’ is the best song on here. Beautifully constructed, it’s an impactful rumination on friendships long gone.  The orchestration grows into a swelling combination of stabbing and sweeping strings over breathless backing vocals. According to East, the song’s Katharine was the reason she moved to New York, and after hearing the song she inspired, the listener can easily understand the urge to follow this person wherever she went.

East’s flexible voice is at its most affecting on the all-too-short ‘Doin Somethin’’.The lounge feel of the Hammond-style organ acts as a contrast to the record’s evident country influences, although the backing sample of crickets and radio commentary puts the listener on a country porch soaking in hazy dusk light.

The album features a lot of steel slide goodness, peaking on the fabulous ‘San Angelo’.  This track also makes use of one of the most underused and overlooked song writing techniques – brevity.

Somehow, the maelstrom of influences poured into East’s work maintains a constant character and, if we’re to be hyper-critical, veers towards a certain sameness. Acclaimed Brooklyn-via-Norway singer Okay Kaya lends guest vocals to the delicate, cutting (and again, brief) ‘Jonas Said’. However, this is definitely an album begotten of an individual, and Kaya’s voice, while fitting, never overwhelms the constant vibe of one soul stating her musical truth.

If you’re looking for something to dance to, look somewhere else. There isn’t a single drum or any other percussive instrument on Try Harder. But by the time you get to the album closer, ‘Be Leavin’, you’ll feel like you know the person behind the songs better than you know yourself.

Try Harder is out via Partisan Records on 12th February 2021

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