I planned on having this review up days ago. I planned on listening to start to finish a few times and feeling wholly equipped to summarize everything Hodera has to offer on Besides. But the best-laid plans often go awry (or, you know, however that saying actually goes).
Hodera have the inexplicable talent to make you nostalgic for and regretful of experiences you yourself have never endured. Besides is no exception. Each song is gut-wrenching, mournful and a whole lot of other descriptors that keep each song from being easily summarized.
I still don’t have the words to accurately express the feelings and emotions that Besides evokes, and maybe that’s because the album itself already does it so well. Each song is an open book, laying everything out on the table.
Given my inability to point to a specific aspect of the album and say, “This, this is what makes the album special,” this review is going to be thoroughly self-involved in an effort to do the EP justice (spoiler: it won’t).
The Butte County Camp Fire has been raging on for nearly two weeks now. In Chico, CA, a town I’ve always considered a second home, the air quality has reportedly been worse than anywhere else in the world. Even here in the Bay Area, air quality has veered into the “very unhealthy” category, made evident by the cover of smoke that has made its bed in my hometown.
The feeling is surreal.
As I drive home through pastoral hills, the smoke thickens and thins with the roll of the landscape. Sunlight fights – and ultimately fails – to break through. The resulting effect halfway between a gloomy fall day and a sunset itself about to be set aflame.
That is the backdrop on which Besides plays. Far from the image on the album cover, this setting feels equally representative of the record.
The ebb and flow of album opener “For the Best” draws you in with anticipation right off the bat. When the song eventually gives way to its crescendo, the effect feels larger than life.
Subdued and morose, “If You Want Me To” features some of the EP’s strongest lyrics. Vocalist Matthew Smith concedes to the wants of another, even when though the ramifications are heartbreaking.
The anguish and regret continue with “Hey Ana”. The song laments the loss of a friend who ultimately succumbed to her mental illness. Hodera previously released the song as a single, with proceeds going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. As you’d expect, “Hey Ana” is the darkest on the tracklist.
On “Medicine”, the sound lightens ever so slightly – until of course, you listen to the lyrics. The faster tempo juxtaposes with the next track, “Kicking the Dirt”, and makes the obituarial track that much more like a punch to the stomach. Smith sings, “The pool in the winter, the water all drained / Deadness of autumn decayed in the deep end / Where we use to swim when the summers meant something”. The song details a relentless attempt to hold on to something or someone who is already gone.
Besides closes with “For Heaven’s Sake”, an acoustic track bound to go down as one of Hodera’s strongest. The track feels undeniably raw and oddly reconciliatory, despite lyrical evidence to the contrary.
At its heart, Besides tackles loss, longing and the enduring attempt to ameliorate suffering only time can heal. And maybe that’s why the Butte fire has made it hit home the way that it has. Like the record, we too are left feeling helpless as damage continues to rage on beyond our control. In the end, all we can do is clean up the aftermath.
If You Want Me To: “You changed the locks inside your head / I knock but you won’t let me in.”
Kicking the Dirt: “I’m feeling fine, but I often start kicking the dirt so the grass can’t grow back.”
For Heaven’s Sake: “I’m trying to find my place / But there’s this feeling I can’t shake.”