Strange yet familiar, dreamlike yet tangible; a beautiful and intimate record.
Aerial East’s ‘Try Harder‘ is a coming of age record about what it means to be a woman in America. At once strange and familiar, dreamlike yet tangible, it is an intimate album with moments of great beauty.
East moved around a lot as a child, spending part of her childhood in Europe, and then Texas, before moving to New York to pursue music. There is a sense of rootlessness in her life which she explores throughout ‘Try Harder‘. Those who grow up without a strong sense of home as a place often discover that home is a self-created space. This is another process which is explored on the record – moving to New York, finding people to create with, and, finally, putting down some roots.
This is just one of the veins running through the record. There is also a focus on exploring characters, and giving a voice to the voiceless. She has spoken about wanting to humanise people, and this has included telling stories about people in Texas, and all the experiences that go along with this – heartbreak, adolescence, death. Yet another theme of the record is that of East’s shifting relationship with America and society in general; reflecting on this experience has informed the songwriting, as well as adding to the floating, groundless feeling of the tracks.
This is a record about transitions, the shifting change of time, and how humans cope with it. It is appropriately dreamlike in its sonic makeup – there are many different styles running through it, from country and folk to more eclectic European influences. The tracks drift and float on in a rootless way which fantastically mirrors the subject matter.
A key creative decision East has made is to have almost no drums on the record at all. There are some moments of light percussion here and there, but that’s it. There are several reasons for this, she says. Firstly, it adds to the overall feeling of floaty rootlessness. It also helps creating an extremely calming atmosphere. East has says that, although the record covers many difficult topics, she wanted it to be a healing experience to listen to – and being a calm auditory experience was a large part of this. She has described her intention for the album to sound like the desert at night; “Western, but quiet and intimate. I wanted it to have gravity but didn’t want it to be heavy.”
‘Try Harder‘ is a wonderful achievement, and a real grower of a record. Initially the disparate blend of genres and sounds is a little confusing, but with repeated listens East’s mastery comes to fore. The wonderful mass of sounds mesh together perfectly, and wash over you, creating a sense of drifting in sunlight, rootless yet somehow grounded. This is exactly what East intended, and if an artist achieves precisely what they intend, it’s very hard to criticise.