Harkin’s debut couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s visceral and transporting, which is more than welcome in a time where many of us are unable to leave our homes.
Her self-titled LP puts the listener in her shoes and lets us explore the delicate dichotomy of Northern England. From the eerie moors to a jam-packed warehouse party, the album has its beginnings in the contradictions of this landscape.
Harkin began work on the album at a cottage in the Peak District (the UK’s oldest national park) before taking it on the road, and to upstate New York and beyond. According to Harkin, this was a jarring period of her life, and that is audible on Harkin. The record brings this chaotic period to life, with the help of Richard Formby (Wild Beasts, Darkstar) and John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Waxahatchee, Kurt Vile).
Having been touring since she was a teenager with both her own bands, and in others, including Sleater-Kinney, Wild Beasts, Flock Of Dimes, and Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett (plus, she performed backing vocals for Dua Lipa on Saturday Night Live). All of these experiences have informed Harkin’s sound, morphing into an intricate formation of essential alt-rock and experimental alternative.
The record opens with “Mist On Glass,” which oscillates between melodic, psychedelic guitar and an echoing repetitive riff. With foggy instrumentals and imagery, Harkin creates an atmosphere that seemingly lacks clarity. By contrast, she asks loud and clear over the chorus, “How could you doubt me now?”
The album includes the single “Nothing The Night Can’t Change,” an ode to the North of England that features Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint) and Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Bon Iver). The track is simultaneously eerie and mechanized, thrilling and terrifying, and full of uncertainties.
Mellow “Decade,” is an ode to the times, whether they are good, bad and ugly. Harkin sings of acknowledging concern for the world, the things that people do and say, and the things that she found it in her heart to forgive. Like “Nothing The Night Can’t Change,” “Decade” is a love song that designates love for the nighttime. On “Up To Speed” grumbling bass and gritty electric guitar converse throughout. It’s a perfect backdrop for Harkin’s continued reflection of navigating life and the passage of time.
On “Red Virginia Creeper,” Harkin takes a turn for the avant-garde and unsettling. She deviates from the alt rock sound on the rest of the album to interweave soul-shaking folk and and spine-chilling electronica. These genres contradict each other, but “Red Virginia Creeper” somehow sounds simultaneously ancient and futuristic. Dissonant guitar strums step into the forefront out of nowhere and float amid shimmering synths and a shower of glitches and beeps.
Harkin closes with “Charm and Tedium,” an examination of another pair of opposites. She sings, “you can’t have both of them,” but sometimes they can be difficult to discern and choose between. For Harkin, there is a moment of clarity when she proclaims that she is not giving her life for anyone, for the sake of her own freedom. With only Harkin’s vocal and a resonant electric guitar, “Charm and Tedium” feels distinctly intimate and vulnerable.
The chaos and contradiction is audible throughout the record, which flips between analog alt-rock and eclectic, genre-smashing experimentation. Harkin admits that many of these songs grew from the tension between opposites, “between the wilderness and the city, between self-examination and communal ecstatic, night and day, love and shame,” and it's this duality that proves to be her biggest strength.