Leo Harmonay thinks the world love is overused. When describing his songwriting process, he says that there has to be a level of pain, sorrow, or darkness involved. I think that’s a pretty good preface before diving into his most recent album, Astoria. I’ve had to listen to and review a lot of music that was highly reactionary to 2020, and to mixed results. Sometimes you’ll get something inspired like rap group’s Run The Jewels recent album discussing the impact of police brutality and social upheaval and other times you’ll get something thats to the effect of “world bad, I’m sad.” That’s not to say that perspective is invalid, I mean, have you looked at this year?
If there’s anything people could use a catharsis over, is that this year was difficult, but if you’ll bare with me, let’s slide a little bit before March, back when the world was “normal”. How often do you truthfully think about the end? Or how close to the end someones journey in life may be. Do you wonder if you did enough? Do you question how you may have changed? I know you’re sitting here reading a music review going “jeez man, just tell me if the album is good or not,” but I believe these questions are necessary to gauge what you think your level of enjoyment would be for Astoria. I like to think I’m a decently introspective person who doesn’t shy away from melancholy subject matter. This is all to say, I really adored this album.
With Astoria, Harmonay has crafted an auditory journey across as a vast landscape. He’s constantly looking inwards and despite his straightforward lyrics, he’s got plenty of surprises in the masterful instrumentals. It’s a lengthy listen and to some may come across as punishingly bleak, but it’s a welcome perspective examining aspects of humanity not often explored enough in music which is so prominently used as escapism. From the seemingly upbeat sounds of its opener “We All Know” you get the sense it’ll be the kind of album of breezy jams about nostalgia, then Harmonay hits up with our first indication otherwise with the lyrics “Like the empty look in your lifeless eye.” No lie, when I first heard it I had to pause and rewind it a few times to make sure I heard it correctly.
Despite this being his fourth major release, you almost get the sense that Harmonay is a trickster with a dark sense of humor, preying on our knowledge of conventional music structure, allowing him to slide in observant jabs about fears we’re not ready to confront. It’s a fearless display of craftsmanship, and while I don’t think it will be everyone’s cup of tea, if you’re looking for something atmospheric and beaming with a singular vision, I can’t recommend it enough.