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Maya Hawke – ‘Moss’ album review / Naomi Tercero

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Maya Hawke’s sophomore album, Moss, released September 23rd and proved to be just as genuine as her first. Her previous album, Blush (2020), established Hawke as a musician, with a folksy feel she shared with her audience her soft spots. Moss is no different. She keeps herself vulnerable and open with lyrics of poetry, whole with imagery and specifications unique to her. Through the stories she spins, we can hear the true maturity she has developed over the past few years. We can also hear the maturity of her voice; Blush allowed her to debut and play around with her soft soprano, and Moss has authorized it to strengthen and find its favorable home.

Although the album’s first few songs start off unhurriedly, the album opens up and becomes a hole to hide in. Moss is a very easy and soothing listen; Hawke’s delicate and comforting vocals backed by guitars, keys, and other stringed instruments make you feel as though the outside world’s disappeared. It’s interesting to note that the album is entirely free of drums. Hawke intended the album to feel like “it could be part of a dream.” Compared to other genres, the lack of drums holds listeners “inside the dream.” She banded with producer Benjamin Lazar Davis and mixer Jonathan Low, who worked on Taylor Swift’s Folklore and Phoebe Bridger’s Punisher. Both albums inspired Moss’s sound, having that dream-like differentia that entices listeners and creates a unique experience for each auditor. It was paramount to Hawke to use each sound and instrument in the album at least three times to preserve cohesiveness.

In an interview with mom+pop, Hawke noted that the album is “called Moss because [she has] been gathering a lot in the last few years, sitting still and collecting a green blanket of memories and feelings.” She expressed that “making this record was [her] trying to get up and shake it off and look at all of it. It was the first step in untangling [herself] and really trying to look at the rock under the Moss.” Hawke does this by telling us stories of personal growth and reflection.

Personal growth is highlighted in Over, Therese, and Mermaid Bar. In Over, she states she must be “stronger than she wanted to be” to save herself. She must become her “inner appalling monster.” In Therese, she reflects on the male gaze and how it impacted her as she grew up; she states, “Therese does not belong to you,” referring to the subject of Balthus’ painting Therese Dreaming and herself. In Mermaid Bar, she symbolizes the story of a girl who tries to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge but instead turns into a mermaid. The girl at first was drowning but felt herself come alive again with “gills” and “sharp teeth.” She’s given a second chance at life and ends up opening a Mermaid Bar. She invites listeners who feel like her to stop by the bar and soften for a while.

Half the album is about a relationship that “used up all her vibrance.” In South Elroy and Crazy Kid, a line she repeats is “I would come crawling back if you asked me to,” revealing that even though this relationship was draining, she wouldn’t take it back. She states that she would like to be “anything [they’ve] lost that [they] might be looking for” and analogizes herself to ordinary and seemingly meaningless things like dress socks and phone chargers in Backup Plan. Showing how little she’ll make herself to have this relationship is another concept she reflects on in Crazy Kid.

Driver is a song that conveys Hawke’s yearning for the past. She realizes how much she’s changed and misses her childhood. Hawke’s parents divorced when she was young, and this has been a common theme in her prior releases. She sings about wishing she could see her parents happy together again, “kissing in the back of a taxicab.” But she also recognizes that even though it hurt her, she knows her dad is “free to do whatever he wants to,” and that is good enough for her to be happy too. Sweet Tooth emphasizes the relationship with her mother, stating she would “lie to the accountant” if her mother wanted her to. (She has clarified that her mother has never committed tax fraud!) Like Goodbye Rocketship (on Blush), where she thanks her father for everything, she thanks her mother, saying, “it’s the only reason that I’m any good to talk to.” Luna Moth illustrates how she is her own worst enemy. “I don’t need anyone to hurt me/I can do that myself,” she sings, “I would be anybody else.”

I didn’t have any skips or dislikes; however, there are some I favor more than others. I will say each song plays its part in the album’s overarching themes. I’ve found that each piece has something to love, even if it’s not your favorite. That said, here is my ranking:

Therese

Over

Bloomed Into Blue

South Elroy

Sweet Tooth

Luna Moth

Hiatus

Mermaid Bar

Sticky Little Words

Restless Moon

Backup Plan

Driver

Crazy Kid

Overall, I would recommend Moss. It’s a wonderfully retrospective and relatively short project, coming in at just under 45 minutes. Hawke does an amazing job articulating thoughts and feelings of self-reflection and self-growth. Hawke remarked in an interview with Flood Magazine, “there were things I started figuring out [then] that I stopped figuring out when I left and muted myself. Pain I went through that I was like, ‘Great, that’s over, I’m now a perfect adult.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta go back there, back to puberty, back to my sexuality, back to my education’—back to all these things that were mine and figure out what weeds I have to pull out so the flowers I’d forgotten about can bloom.” Now she is free to move forward as a more authentic version of herself and encourages listeners to do the same.