Occasionally, albums come along that force me to lose all sense of critical perspective. I guess maybe that’s antithetical to my job description, but I think there comes a time when it’s better and healthier to just take a step back and let an album be than it is to try and pick it apart and figure out what makes it tick. From the first time I heard Harmlessness, I knew it would be that sort of album, that it would be a herculean task for me to write about it without appearing to completely lose my shit. Some albums come so hard and so fast and at just the right time that they bowl you over — it’s what I love about music, it’s why I write about it for a living, but it also sometimes feels impossibly difficult and a little pointless to deconstruct something that you love so deeply.
When I’m not listening to it, I can see how someone might think Harmlessness was self-indulgent, where some of the lyrics may stretch, how maybe it gets to be a little too melodramatic at times. But all of that falls away once I actually hit play and get sucked back up into this world again, because this music comes across as so uncompromising and wholly realized that it justifies itself at every turn. It’s the kind of album that speaks for itself, that makes its worldview so apparent that it feels superfluous to add any additional commentary. Sometimes my job is to provide a little bit of context, whether personal or otherwise; other times, I think it’s better just to sit on my hands and say, Holy shit, look at this beautiful thing that has been made.
This whole record fucks with me in the best way. It’s all I’ve been listening to for a solid two months now, and I’m just so excited it’s finally out in the world so I can talk about it with everyone. Here’s a few moments that stick out for me — return after you’ve heard it and tell me yours, please:
- The last minute of “Haircuts For Everyone” is the best piece of music I’ve heard all year. The way everything crescendos, when all the voices cut in, how it all hinges around the life-affirming, devastating moment: “Change your life. Please, change your life. Change my life. Please, change my life.”
- The cathartic one-two punch of “Rage Against The Dying Of The Light” and “Ra Patera Dance.” More specifically, the end of the former: “Haven’t you ever been set out and miscounted? Frail and fully compromised? / Sharing a meal at a table your friends built…” — it’s inclusive and vibrant and makes me feel like anything is possible.
- “The Word Lisa” is a perfect pop song.
- The first time I listened to the record, I played “You Can’t Live There Forever” four or five times before I could even move on. It’s the prettiest song on the album; it reminds me of Neutral Milk Hotel in the same way that Jesse Lacey does. “We think that the world is alright, and that’s a lie.” Those string arrangements are just perfect.
- “I Can Be Afraid Of Anything” and “Mount Hum” have to be the best back-to-back closing epics in a while.
- “January 10th, 2014” is still so great — “Are you afraid of me now?/ Well, yeah. Shouldn’t I be?”
- “When in doubt, just look it up, or when in real doubt, look around you and stop crying.”
This isn’t just a record about finding a place where you fit in, it’s one that helps you do so. It’s about depression and anxiety and feeling worthless, sure, but it’s more of a roadmap out. It’s about the negative space in between all those emotions, about how you can heal, how your friends will help you if you learn how to ask. It’s a powerful, human thing — the first masterpiece in the career of a band who hopefully have a few more of those under their belt. Maybe there will be objectively “better” records that come out this year, but there will be none that I love more. Listen to it below.