In lieu of a trail mix today, I wanted to share a recent EP release by a Durham, North Carolina band, Hardworker.
I was nervous to start listening to something called The Awful Rowing, which I assume is a heavy nod to Anne Sexton‘s posthumously published, death-meditating The Awful Rowing Toward God, because I was having such a carefree morning. But, I said, this is my job. Surgeons face death all the time. Garbage collectors. Shamans. So, too, must online music review writers.
I pressed play.
The first track is a good roadmap for the album, showcasing singer/songwriter Sus Long’s range, themes, and poetry, but the real gems on the EP are “The Apathy Hymn” and “The Awful Rowing.” They are both straightforward tunes that do a good job making fine folk musicianship sound effortless. “The Apathy Hymn” proves to be only half-aptly named. You can sing along, hymn-like, before the song’s over, but the lyrics are anything but apathetic, which, in an era that has made an art of apathy, is oddly refreshing. Long repeats: “I don’t care to find the things that I lost” as if trying to convince herself of it, unable to see, until the end of the tune, that she’s had it all along.
I’m told the band was born out of backyard and basement post-party jams, and that comes through in the best way possible, especially in the last track. “The Awful Rowing” opens by showing the talent of the individual musicians in the group, but swells to give us what they can make together. The production is such that if I close my eyes and put a cold mason jar in my hand I can almost imagine that this group of friends is sitting right here on the deck with me, the cuffs of their jeans rolled up just so.
As I initially feared, the album addresses nothingness, death, and God head-on, but could it really be a blues-folk album if it didn’t? The Awful Rowing is joining a long tradition of meditating on the beyond through song, but not in a dusty way. In a way that invites both toe-tapping and contemplation, without irony, without hesitation, and without feeling alone. The hard work of Hardworker paid off.