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Halfsour - "Charm School" | Album Review

by Hannah Liuzzo (@hannahliuzzo)

Boston’s halfsour address a trendy but undercooked approach at art-making with their most recent EP Charm School; the record reflects the lifestyle of young artists existing in a time and space where it’s increasingly difficult to sustain anything outside of a job that pays rent. On Charm School, halfsour recycles themes of abandonment, stagnancy, and general listlessness with super simple and dense songwriting, which brings up the question: how do you make art about being bored without the content itself actually being boring? It’s a fine line to straddle with a hundred-foot drop on one side, and a heaping pile of deserved praise on the other.

“Ten Year Tenure”’s musical skeleton is essentially built on one riff and one harmony, with only a brief departure for the choruses, like a city-kid who never leaves the neighborhood and who suddenly opts for a destination getaway, only to long for the familiar comfort of a bed and a cat and a laptop. The lyrics throughout the song are quiet, subtle variations on the first statement, “someone I once knew/ that I thought was true/ said they’d stay/ …said they’d never move away,” but the simplicity of the repeated themes interacting with the familiar structure of the song breeds a playful and interesting chemistry. The play on words “Ten Year Tenure” also adds weight to the song’s meaning, with “tenure” literally meaning “to hold” (onto someone’s promise?), and “ten years” being a believable duration for someone to burn out in a city. The song is concise, incredibly catchy, sophisticated, and impressively self-contained.

The EP’s closer “Black Dodge” verges more towards the dangerous side of the fine line—it lacks the layers and continuity and poetic autonomy present in  “Day Dogs” and “Scenes from the Couch” (both of which are as clever and effective as the EP’s opener). It’s a little too deliberately about nothing—literally about a guy in a black van waiting—without much to offer beyond face value. It’s fun, catchy, and energetic (as halfsour always is), but could benefit from one more layer of self-awareness in order to be on par with the rest of the EP and to avoid collapsing in on itself. 

Bassist Zoe Wyner evenly splits vocal duties with guitarist Matt Mara on the record. While this can sometimes lead to a jarring experience, the balance is nice. Both vocalists have qualities worth adoring, and the band’s sound is unique and uniform enough to manage the back and forth, especially with a guitar tone as particular as Mara’s. 
Charm School deserves praise for the mere fact that it’s evidence of what a creative mind will do when it’s left in dull and uninspiring surroundings--establish its own internal environment, create a reason to exist, a purpose, an excuse to wake up and keep going. Beyond that, the poetry of the record as a whole is applause worthy: you can run from your problems, change your friends, change your clothes, change your surroundings and expect to grow, or you can “stay in this town”, make something, learn something, feed it, nurture it, and benefit. halfsour show promise to continue to evolve and develop as a band, and will likely settle into something even more distinctly “theirs” with their next endeavors.