Aerial East – Try Harder – Album Review
by Cathy Brown
Aerial East’s new album Try Harder has been two years in the making and is sonically a world away from her debut Rooms, which came out in 2016. Gone are the lush 60s arrangements that dominated her debut, instead replaced with a minimalistic sound that envelops and elevates her wispy, childlike vocals and candid, emotive lyrics.
Recorded entirely without drums, Try Harder puts East’s sweetly vulnerable vocal front and centre. Exploring her peripatetic childhood as a self-confessed ‘army brat’, East channels Karen Peris of The Innocence Mission in fragile songs about friendship, memory and belonging that play with the idea of the Southern Texas country tradition.
This is an album that is more than the sum of its parts as East’s vocals glide over different soundscapes, each track adding to the one that has gone before. Opening track Try Harder showcases East’s impressive vocal range as her haunted falsetto floats over a slice of Badalamenti-infused dream pop. The Things We Build perfectly captures a country vibe as East sings of ‘going home to a place I cannot find’. The Red Dirt sound continues on the nostalgic Blue and the beautiful melancholy of standout track San Angelo, both of which benefit greatly from the addition of the slide guitar.
At the heart of Try Harder is a series of songs written for old friends and old relationships. Ryan and Brennan are pared back and beautifully intimate, while Katherine is a swooning hymn to teenage female friendship. Angry Man is the most percussive of all the tracks which is fitting for this song about loving – but having to leave – an abusive partner.
East confounds expectations when she takes her soundscapes in unlikely directions. The ethereal I Love Dick pairs glistening piano, and shimmering strings with the warmth of a bass trombone to create a song that feels like it could sit comfortably on a Nilsson album. Doin Somethin loops her vocals over the soundtrack of a TV show, chirping crickets and warm organ chords in one of the most atmospheric tracks on the album, while the short, sharp vignette of Jonas Said is all finger-clicking sass with additional husky vocals from Okay Kaya.
As the album closes on the achingly gorgeous Be Leavin you know you are hearing a real talent coming into her own.
Don’t let that sweet voice fool you, there is grit and depth behind the beauty and Try Harder is the exhilarating sound of an artist staying true to her own unique vision.