Elizabeth Moen “Wherever You Aren’t”

Independent, 2022

Reflecting on life through indie rock, folk and soul.

Less americana and more indie rock, pop, folk with a generous measure of soul this is a record of big sound. Dipping back only occasionally to the folkier roots of her 2017 debut Elizabeth Moen now gives full flight to her impressive vocals that soar and dive above swirls of layered production. First impressions almost intimidate but repeated playings will allow a deeper appreciation of Moen’s articulate lyrics.

Moen started writing at the University of Iowa, whose close-knit community of musicians, artists and writers shared ideas and thoughts regardless of the medium. Self taught and self made, Moen used this broad canvass to paint her own images. She toured throughout North America and Europe for a couple of years before settling in Chicago. On those travels in various studios she wrote and recorded some of the songs for this album. Pandemic struck forcing her to finish the job from home. Moen describes the record as an “accumulation of friendships and life lessons”. She takes emotional stock of life in her 20s writing about mental health, joy, panic attacks and falling in and out of love. There is often forensic detail around the emotions but the overall conclusion is one of acceptance.

To enforce the self-made aspect of her work she does not cite specific influences. As for who she sounds like, that is not easy such is her unique vocal range. From the Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard perhaps? Or Natalie Maines of The Chicks?

A gentle cosmic swirl gives way for Moen’s distinctive soulful voice to open the album with ‘Headgear’. Immediately her eye for what seems like trivial detail so vividly illustrates something as deep as the future of a relationship. Looking back to see how things turned out compared to expectations is a feature of the album but particularly well expressed on ‘Synthetic Fabrics’, “It seems what I planned today/ Was planned out by my last self/ Round it up, it’s been a decade”. The jangly indie rock adds a bouncy carefree element.

‘Ex’s House Party’ so perfectly captures the awkwardness of meeting an ex, particularly when it is at their party. Moen’s cry is for herself, or is it? “Slip outside to get a ride without saying goodbye/ Turn around to see if you’d stop me even though it’d hurt more if you tried”. Though she does the bluesy rock well, better still is when Moen slows down to reveal her soulful side on ‘Soft Serve’. Adding an energetic horn section to combine both ‘Emotionally Available’ is perhaps the album’s peak as she makes very clear where she stands.

Moen finishes with the title track that of all the songs harks most back to her indie folk roots. Around her gentle acoustic strumming her voice soars ephemerally dipping into a long crescendo of “I will smile and leave” because, “Wherever you are/ Wherever you aren’t/ That’s okay”. If there is a theme that runs throughout the record, that is it.

7/10
7/10

About Lyndon Bolton 100 Articles
Writing about americana, country, blues, folk and all stops in between

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