One of my favorite things to do after finishing an album for review is to isolate the albums opener and its closer and dissect the two as though they were the beginning and opening of a film. This is to say I like getting to the end of an album and asking, “how did we get here?” I walked up to a stranger and played the opening and the ending of Leo Harmonay’s newest album Astoria, they’d probably assume it was a breezy, Hawaiian shirt clad reflection on getting older and given how upbeat and peppy the closer “You Are The Light” is, you’d probably assume its a feel good celebration of life.
Yeah, no. Not at all.It almost has to be deliberately deceptive on the part of Harmonay, because what he has ended up creating is one of the most thoughtful and morbid albums I’ve heard in recent memory. Your mileage may vary on what you get out of an album that isn’t the type to spin when hanging out with close friends for a casual hang out, unless your friends are into this sort of thing, who am I to say? Of the many albums I reviewed in 2020, this is one that has haunted me plenty even in my spare time. Harmonay has created a singular vision of loss and the crushing realities of existing, but he has no intention of letting us off the hook easy. The album lulls you into a false sense of security with its breezy opening “We All Know” as Harmonay croons about the past and long gone experiences both good and bad, but things take a decidedly sharp turn when Harmonay acknowledges that these instances didn’t paint the picture of a person content with life, but someone frozen unable to move when we know they’re ignoring their personal truths.
Upon first listen I thought this sharp dressing down might have just been a one off, a move to signify itself as having more pathos and texture than your average folk/soul album. I was very very wrong. From front to back, this album is Harmonay laying it all out on the table, confronting our fears over our personhood. From haunting lines from the track “Irony of Love” where while breaking down the end of things Harmoany has the revelatory line “For a moment, I remembered everything” and that sentiment echos across the album as Harmoany remembers every heartbreak, every insecurity and carries a blunt straight forward approach that’s beautifully backed by his inspired instrumentals, ranging from the bare all strums of acoustic guitars, to distortion effects and one of my favorite uses of strings in recent memories.
Sometimes it runs being a little to abstract in the lyric department that some may find it slightly impenetrable, but once you surrender yourself to Harmonay’s go for broke honesty, you’ll want to dive in again and again to uncover its many subtle nuances.