Album Review: Harmony Woods – Nothing Special

My first introduction to Harmony Woods happened at a grungy basement show lit only by string lights on a warm July evening last summer. I didn’t know anyone else there, but I was drawn to the thoughtful, lo-fi alternative rock and the open energy, and Nothing Special, the band’s latest album, has been on repeat ever since.

a3697269084_10.jpgOver the course of twelve tracks, Nothing Special makes a slow descent from a wholesome, loving relationship into a codependent one with a lover struggling with inner demons. The shift is highlighted in contrasting lines in “The Best Things” (“I guess it’s a good thing that I’m a pessimist ‘cause the best things never happen when you expect them to”) and “The Worst Things” (“In my head, you’ve ended it all/I swear to god I’m cursed”), tracks two and eight, respectively.

The complete record, then, becomes more than the sum of its twelve songs; the warm feelings from the first few love songs quickly dissipate and are replaced with the gut-wrenching feeling of familiarity as shoegaze alt-rocker Sofia Verbilla croons about the heartbreak of loving someone who’s struggling.

“Renovations” is the crux of the album’s desolation–it feels like Verbilla is simply giving up, tired of trying to make things work. It begins heavier, with the album’s trademark muted, fuzzy guitar, and suddenly, everything drops out but Verbilla’s vocals and gentle guitar picking. The shift is strangely overwhelming, leaving a feeling of wanting to cry before she bursts into another powerful section, wailing painful lyrics (“I tried to build a home in you/but the foundation was overlooked”).

An album’s content can only be as powerful as its music, however, and Nothing Special backs up bold lyrics with melancholy guitar and Verbilla’s smooth black-coffee vocals. In the beginning, everything is delicate and golden–it sounds like being in love–but as the album’s mood shifts, the guitar begins to bite at each track, punctuating desolate vocals with a fiery snap.

 

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Photo by Emily Dubin.

 

This post is long overdue; Nothing Special was featured in my 2017 Top 15 post, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while. With this album, Sofia Verbilla is able to draw listeners in with poppy love songs and gauzy melodies before introducing devastating lyrics and razor-sharp guitar. By the twelfth track, it’s all too easy to feel exhausted. The music is draining in a cathartic way, and Verbilla tells a complete narrative–from the beginning all the way to the bitter end.

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