By this point in Hovvdy’s now two-album discography, it’s clear their tracks are never hard hitters. The Austin-based duo Charlie Martin and Will Taylor only semi-jokingly refer to their music as “pillowcore,” but it’s worth noting that what they lack in adrenaline they make up for in steady momentum. Their latest record, Cranberry, follows up last year’s Taster quite nicely. Whereas Taster was a downcast haze of unresolved conflict, Cranberry feels less anxious and more determined; less like a bad dream and more like waking up.
The album as a whole tells a clear story, playing out like a vulnerable confession as well as an apology. It’s about being stuck in the periphery of your own life, but wanting to be better for the ones you love. Often through an imperfect, nostalgia-tinted lens, the 12 short tracks chronicle the nature of life’s phases, the damage of routines and the effects of having to change.
Martin and Taylor, both primarily drummers who are still easing into the guitar, tend to focus on rhythm and play slowly. This actually caters well to the album’s thematic elements, as the clipped lyrics poking through a background of stable yet murky instrumentals simulate what it might feel like to have the world continuing to pound on around you even while you’re not entirely present.
Many of the subdued lyrics are hard to discern, but the lines that do stick out through the fuzz have impact. They seem so straightforward (“Yesterday I woke up outside/ Saw you for the very first time”), that it’s only in the larger context of the album they lose their explicitness and the clever storytelling becomes evident. Hovvdy use a recurring metaphor of vehicles to show that life is impossible to navigate alone. “Truck” details how effortless issue avoidance and self-sabotage can be: “This truck likes me/ it runs without keys.” There’s the guilt of having these faults but also the calmness of finally addressing them. “Unlock your car to take me for a ride,” Taylor sings in “Quitter” as a roundabout way of asking for help, before confirming the benefits of doing so later in “Colorful”: “You were not expected to take me so far down the road.”
Cranberry is a fitting soundtrack to coming out of a seasonal depression or a long-term fog. At its heart is the message that life doesn’t come easy to anyone, and that quality human connection and resulting happiness require constant effort. There will be days when your harmful and hard-to-break habits win, of course—but that doesn’t mean you’ve lost.