When did folk music simply become “sad music” to the indie masses? Gently strummed guitars and atmospheric production can achieve a range of emotion; I do love anything that allows me to contemplate the depths of the psyche, but these sounds more often than not come from a positive place. New York songwriter A. harlana, né Juno Roome, writes lullabies about the love he has for his partner—a genuinely joyous feeling that levels out unhappiness, at least in the present.
In 2019, Roome released so much that I frequently lost track. First there was ada belle, a January EP, followed by an ambient record in April, a cover in May, singles in June and September, and a spoken word record in August. He is comfortable in any context, it seems, allowing the sounds—any sounds, his sounds—to bear his soul.
ada belle, a three-song release that doesn’t necessarily represent the year for A. harlana, still feels like the crowning jewel atop all of his 2019 musings. It opens with a slow, melancholy melody on “textile workers,” featuring lyrics that never quite fit into it. Roome creates his most iconic harmony as he emphasizes different syllables in the chorus: “can’t you see that it’s all poured o-o-o-out?” Roome’s whispers are practically inaudible, and certainly unintelligible to my ears, but provide a deep comfort that doesn’t require denotation. Then again, his voice is not what propels this record—it is the cautious instrumentation.
While it is the opening hook on “textile workers” that most frequently gets stuck in my head, “faces” and “the thunderings are nearly through” tell more complete stories with guitars, percussion, and production. There are plenty of vocalizations that don’t amount to lyrics, just added sounds swirling in this electric storm of passion and private philosophy.
Everything that has come after ada belle feels like a drifting continuation—similar themes and melodies appear, but he is always growing. There is courage in “if i’m a bird,” and there is fear in “my dear, i will think of you.” And love always guides him forward.
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Best Albums of 2019
1. A. harlana – ada belle