I know what some people are going to think while listening to Cranberry for the first time: “I already know this record”. Mind you, this will spring in the minds of people who either love or hate the album. In fact, this sophomore record by the Hovvdy duo is as easy to dismiss as it is easy to relate to. Immediately after you hear the unfiltered, lo-fi sound of guitar strums, the Elliott Smith-like delivery (best track ‘Petal’), the downtempo rhythmic signature, you can identify the record you are playing. Perhaps, you can even predict more or less its content: discoloured postcards from an imaginary suburbia of the soul, fragments of childhood memory, and so on.
There is a big “so what?” underlining these considerations, because, after a time, if you let this record penetrate your day, it won’t let go easily. This is often the case with lo-fi albums in general, as it is difficult to appreciate nuances at a first listen, but it is particularly relevant for Cranberry, which relies upon the aesthetics of vulnerability and daily misgivings.
The ability of letting their music be one with their emotional palette is something Hovvdy excel at. Of course the instrumental setup is pretty monochromatic, as if in a long sequence in a film – constant electro-acoustic guitar droning, sparse piano notes, stark drum beats (sometimes even in the form of electronic patterns). But, this way, the songwriting really stands out and represents the true attraction of Cranberry< . It is a very simple, almost elementary songwriting, in terms of American alternative music, but nonetheless it does have an attractive purity and essentialness of expression.
No easy sorrow, no generic lamentations inhabit this record, but a gentle vitality, a tenderness towards others (Wurlitzer-inspired ‘Float’), and this is reflected in the delicate songwriting variations. Some of the shadows of slow-core/alt-country monoliths like Mark Kozelek, Jason Molina and David Bazan linger about, but there is indeed a different, hopeful undertone to Cranberry, that makes it personal and somewhat modern (‘Late’). Slow-burning anthems appear, here and there (‘Truck’), making it clear that Cranberry is an album Hovvdy want to share with listeners – which is not always a granted thing.
Honesty is probably an abused and inflated term, when it comes to music, maybe even confusing, but it is definitely something that defines Cranberry more clearly than anything else. Just think at how ‘In The Sun’ would sound if Kurt Vile had been playing it. It has to be acknowledged that this is strictly Hovvdy’s record and that, at the end of the day, you would not get the same from anyone else.
Words: Lorenzo Righetto (Twitter)