It is fair to say that 24-year-old Maya Hawke has had a bit of a leg up in the success stakes. She is the daughter of actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, with a CV featuring not just music but, of course, modelling and acting (you may know her from Stranger Things) – and with her second album, Moss, she hopes to prove her worth.
Her first, 2020’s Blush, was influenced by folk legends of yore and with her smooth, likeable voice, Moss is also full of songs I am inclined to describe as ditties, coloured by gloopy harmonies.
The record is ostensibly about rebirth after years of gathering the titular moss, and there is the sound of spring about it in the piano arpeggios that fall like a gentle rain.
As a wash of music, it is sometimes quite hard to tune your ear into, but occasionally a line cuts through – “I’m gonna have to be stronger than I wanted to be,” she whisper-sings on “Over”, as a hollow wood block taps away behind her, like a heart left empty.
Moss is a very listenable but “background music” record, and it never really reaches any kind of emotional peak or trough. Hawke writes narratively, each song a little story without a conclusion.
She has said that Taylor Swift’s Folklore was a big inspiration and it is no surprise – but unlike Swift’s, Hawke’s stories feel open-ended, as though we are just getting a glimpse of what is going on without any of the context.
It makes for an unsatisfying listen when coupled with the samey sounds – the same gentle acoustic guitar, the same slightly vintage tone to her vocals, the same lethargic melodies throughout. By the end, you might find your eyelids drooping.
Stream: Sweet Tooth, Over, Luna Moth
Props to London-based indie scamps Sports Team: Gulp! is an appropriate name for a second album, notoriously agreed to be the hardest for any act to make and put out after the flush of album one’s success.
Their 2020 debut, Deep Down Happy, struck a chord with a public newly reinvigorated by racing guitars and semi-intellectual socially conscious lyrics and, thanks partly to the band’s attention-grabbing antics, made it to No 2 in the charts (Lady Gaga beat them to the top spot) and netted them a Mercury Prize nomination.
It was a strutting and infectious record – and Gulp! doesn’t stray far from that formula. They sound keen to cement their sound – or afraid to try anything different. If Gulp! were a Deep Down Happy B-sides record, it would not be surprising.
The band sound hamstrung by their own success, the determined energy they brought to their debut having dissipated. It’s hard to be an outsider when you’ve made it inside the establishment, and it’s even harder when you come from a privileged background and like to pretend you haven’t – a criticism levelled at the mostly Cambridge graduates whose fascination with the symbols of working-class life has been deemed suspect by many.
I would like to like this album, but it feels like a drag. A touch overproduced and quite a lot overthought, it has nothing that gets the pulse racing, even if it does occasionally get your toes tapping. “Kool Aid” sums things up: a sneering post-rock song about buying into a government that has only its own interests at heart. It is hard to take such a tired cliché seriously or to accept such preaching from people more likely to benefit from such policies than many of us.
Politicising aside, the band know their way around a fun hook, a chunky riff and a beat that taps into the subconscious rhythm centre, so there are things to enjoy about Gulp!. But, as its name suggests, you would be wise not to take any of it too seriously.
Stream: The Game, R Entertainment, The Drop