Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Maria BC Hyaline

Father/Daughter / Fear Of Missing Out
Father/Daughter / Fear Of Missing Out

Maria BC’s music is magnetic — simple, sparse, and hard to pull away from. The ambient-folk artist makes songs for quiet contemplation, songs that course with longing and ache with regret and stretch out to a far-off point on the horizon. Hyaline, their first full-length, is a more than effective introduction — it establishes a beguiling, tenuous atmosphere while also setting up different pathways for Maria BC to explore. It’s an ideal debut in that way: self-contained but also expressly interested in pushing further.

This is, of course, not exactly the beginning of Maria BC’s story. Last year, they released the marvelous Devil’s Rain EP, which was recorded furtively during the early days of the pandemic while living with two roommates. It’s even more hushed and solitary than Hyaline, wisps of guitar and muted vocals that settled into foggy reveries. And before that, they grew up in Ohio, where their father played music in the church and Maria BC trained classically as a mezzo-soprano vocalist. Hyaline doesn’t feel especially reverent or overly studied, though — instead, it actively eschews more comforting or traditional song structures. It’s diffuse to the point of revelation. It’s an album to sink into and be guided along by.

Some songs feel like they’re barely there at all, just the hum of atmosphere and some spindling guitar, until a brief moment where they clarify into focus. Sometimes that clarity comes in the form of a vocal run; other times it’s a swelling of baroque strings, like on the gliding “Keepsakes.” Whatever it is, Maria BC’s music crests to these moments but never lingers on them. I don’t mean to make Hyaline sound like a chore — it’s consistently gorgeous and never willfully obtuse. Its passages of murmuring rumination only make the peaks stand out more. Like “The Only Thing,” where Maria BC lets that magnificent voice fly into a sweetly romantic chorus: “In your arms/ I find I can’t think back so far/ Fogging up windows of cars/ You know that the best part of me/ Ain’t the only thing.”

But often their music isn’t so sweet; instead it sounds haunted — by what was, what could be, what is. On the simmering “Betelgeuse,” Maria BC imagines a man plagued by his demons who still seems oddly alluring: “J had to hide, to run, to ride tonight to show you/ Some will never have to learn to love at all/ Slick confidant, he says anything you want.” They’re an evocative writer, even when the words can be hard to pick out. The transitionary “***” sets up “Betelgeuse” with a folkloric intensity: “He painted the front door red like mama asked/ Kept the gutters clean ’til his father finally called him back/ Done waiting, he drained the jar and left.” On the closing title track, they stand against a tide that feels ready to suck them down: “It’s hard to do good with controlled intentions/ Honesty thrives in a broken sentence/ I’m headed to heaven to take language down/ Rivers dammed in their straying will carry concrete out.”

Comparisons to Grouper, who also encourages patient listening and utilizes negative space in much the same way, are inevitable; their music also reminds me of Angel Deradoorian, who uses similar vocal techniques and a subtle but sweeping majesty. There’s even one song, “Rerun,” that almost sounds like it could be a rough sketch of an early Lana Del Rey demo. Maria BC isn’t averse to flirting with more traditional methods of songwriting — they said that they almost shelved the drifting, hypnotic penultimate track “Good Before” because they “thought it was too pop-y” (it’s not, really) — but Hyaline sounds like it’s figuring out how much they want to push that part of themselves, seeing what seems right and sounds most potent. What I like about Maria BC’s music is how instinctual it all feels: One sound bleeds into the next and nothing ever feels forced.

The word “hyaline” means to have a translucent appearance; it’s an appropriate name for a debut that feels like a fully transparent look into one person’s experimentations with music in the never-ending search for definition. Hyaline can sound tentative and wary, but it never sounds purposeless. Though Hyaline was recorded while still living in Brooklyn, Maria BC has already moved on to Oakland, and presumably to whatever is next. Which means that Hyaline is, in some ways, a snapshot: an enduring document of a fleeting moment in time. If the ephemeral songs of Hyaline can teach you anything, it’s that sometimes not knowing where something will go can be the most powerful feeling.

Hyaline is out 5/27 via Father/Daughter Records (US) / Fear Of Missing Out Records (UK). Pre-order it here.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Wilco’s Cruel Country, which we’ll have more on soon
• Liam Gallagher’s C’mon You Know
• Bright Eyes’ A Collection Of Songs Written And Recorded 1995-1997: A Companion, Letting Off The Happiness: A Companion, and Fevers And Mirrors: A Companion
• Bruce Hornsby’s ‘Flicted
• Stars’ From Capelton Hill
• Just Mustard’s Heart Under
• Dehd’s Blue Skies
• Slang’s Cockroach
• Total Slacker’s ExtraLife
• Decapitated’s Cancer Culture
• Your Old Droog’s Yod Stewart
• First Hate’s Cotton Candy
• Bread Pilot’s New To You
• The World Without Parking Lots’ You’ll Have To Take My Word For It
• 700 Bliss’ Nothing To Declare
• Def Leppard’s Diamond Star Halos
• Steve Earle & The Dukes’ Jerry Jeff
• Mark Tremonti’s Tremonti Sings Sinatra
• SEVENTEEN’s Face The SunVaxis II: A Window Of The Waking Mind
• Alfie Templeman’s Mellow Moon
• Shaggy’s Com Fly Wid Mi
• Sean Paul’s Scorcha
• Sacred Bones’ Todo Muere SBXV anniversary compilation
Music From The Motion Picture Top Gun: Maverick
Stranger Things: Soundtrack From The Netflix Series, Season 4 — Vol. 1
• Hovvdy’s billboard for my feelings EP
• GOT7’s GOT7 EP

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