On her third solo LP, Juanita Stein emerges from the soundscapes of her previous works and again joins musical forces with her brother Joel, her bandmate from Howling Bells. The new record brings ten personal songs, woven out of snapshots from the past and dense matter of melancholy and great sadness but also an affirmation of life.
The Brighton-based Australian singer-songwriter got recognition as the leading vocalist and rhythm guitarist of indie rock band Howling Bells, who have been active since 2004. Years later, she started a solo career from her acclaimed debut, America (2017). Stein, with her dark charisma and pugnacious voice steered more into the textures of country, folk, and Americana, continued the exploration in the second record – Until the Lights Fade (2018).
Snapshot was born out of the need to express the deep grief the artist experienced facing the death of her dear father, also a musician, in 2019. “It feels fundamental to understanding the devastation and eerie silence thrust upon us after his sudden death,” said Stein, discussing the feelings that inspired her new record. And describing the creative process: “[Songs] came thick and fast. I demoed everything that manifested, I felt a compelling inspiration I’d not felt before.” The result is the cycle of 10 songs exploring the stages of grief and the need to embrace life to the fullest.
The first song ‘1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6’ starts with a deceptively rousing groove with anger gurgling somewhere beneath, which gives its glimpses by distorted dirty guitar tones. On Snapshot, the important character is the leading guitar played by Juanita’s brother, Joel Stein. “I knew only he could harness the exact frenzied energy needed for the songs” – explains Juanita. It gives an additional voice, emphasizing the severity and multitude of emotions of this record.
The bluesy ‘L.O.T.F’, with its bittersweet melody, is about Juanita’s memories of her childhood growing up in Australia. Brave and rocking ‘Lucky’, the first song written for the album, has a hot country vibe and similar feeling to the opener track. Folky and melancholic ‘Snapshot’ is full of sadness and is cinematic as the title indicates. The next songs – tender ballad ‘Hey Mama’ and hypnotizing ‘From Peace’ bring the tides of tears, and the permission to do it.
‘In The Mavericks’ sounds like she wants to embrace and lull herself, but the echoes of darkness are growing and coming again as the song reaches its peak. It is barely the only song where her voice is near to screaming. It lightens up again in ‘Take It or Leave it’. “Nobody is a stranger, we’re all friends / Because everyone will lose someone in the end” – Juanita sings in the closing ‘In the End’ seems to find consolation in the sense of community of same human experiences, inevitable for us all.
Snapshot brings Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell to mind, less devastating but carrying the same burden. This record can be an unobtrusive companion in tough times, allowing you to be sad and despair when feelings are demanding to be released, until you are able to settle down slowly and finally find peace.