Astoria (LP) by Leo Harmonay
Confronting the end is never easy. For many of us, we tend to want to believe that we are in fact, immortal and that we will go on forever. It is through this thought process sometimes we forget to look within ourselves and ask ourselves the bigger questions introspectively of “who are we becoming?” “how do we prepare for the end?” and understandably that’s heavy material to unpack. We tend to find catharsis in art as a way of deflecting our own problems onto a piece of media, but with the exchange that while they may be covering the things we don’t want to think about, we must consider it from outside ourselves by what the creator is interpreting. New York based folk and soul singer Leo Harmonay said that he writes his music as a way of working out his emotional weaknesses, and it is with that vulnerability he makes some of his best work to date with his latest melancholy work, Astoria.
The album is lengthy and dense. It is viscerally uncompromising and with that warning, and I will be the first to say, it won’t be for everyone. However, I implore those interested to give it a chance to pierce through you as it did myself. The album tackles many themes across its lengthy runtime. Luckily the album has enough variety both lyrically and sonically that it certainly never overstays its welcome. Going into this album blind I wasn’t sure to expect and as its opening track “We All Know” began, I immediately formed an image in my head of faux philosophical waxing about life. I was dead wrong.
Check your expectations at the door. The albums transports you across various distinct but intertwined feelings, ranging from nostalgia to regret to depression and every little emotion in-between. Something Harmonay grapples with very intently is the distinction from running away from your problems, and that giving way to running way from your pleasures with not much elsewhere to go. Leo’s voice might come off a bit blunt and stoic for some, but his matter of fact deliver is only greater emphasized by the phenomenal work he and his collaborators have done with the production.
Despite its lengthy run time each song stands out on its own with distinct different flavors. From the haunting wails heard on “On the Plains for Ella” to the almost farcical upbeat sounds of the albums closer “You Are the Light.” There’s tons of lines that linger with you well after your initial listen, my favorite being “I know I ain’t changed, but I ain’t myself”. While the album may be covering some universal truths, it does leave a little arms length between the listener and Harmonay himself. It’s not a damning detriment and the album feels distinctly personal, but I would have loved an occasional specific instance in addition to the abstract poetic and certainly powerful lyrics.