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COLUMN: Maya Hawke’s ‘MOSS’ shines brightest in its risks, rarely takes them

<p>Maya Hawke released her second album, &quot;MOSS,&quot; on Sept. 23, 2022.</p>

Maya Hawke released her second album, "MOSS," on Sept. 23, 2022.

Many likely know Maya Hawke primarily through her role as Robin on “Stranger Things,” secondarily for her star-studded parentage of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman and thirdly as an up-and-coming indie musician.  

Hawke released her first album, “Blush,” in 2020 and after a brief hiatus from music, released “MOSS” on Sept. 23.  

Fans of “Blush” will likely find something to enjoy on “MOSS,” which again showcases the understated, acoustic style that runs through Hawke’s discography. It’s written and performed well, but it mostly fails to branch out in any meaningful way as one might expect from such an established figure.  

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The opening track, “Backup Plan,” is pleasant and welcomes the listener into the album with a warm embrace. The acoustic guitar arpeggios create a smooth and unchallenging texture over which Hawke’s breathy alto floats. 

The vocal harmonies and lyrics are this song’s strong points. The harmonies are simple but satisfying, tastefully sprinkled in at key points. The lyrics are vivid and poignant, although not incredibly inventive. The chorus’ “I want to be anything you’ve lost that you might be looking for” evokes strong imagery but doesn’t feel like anything that hasn’t been said before. 

The first song to step away from Hawke’s formula is “Sweet Tooth.” It adds drums and bass — a rare inclusion in her music — as well as a quicker tempo. Hawke’s voice takes on a brighter tone, a contrast from her typical subtone register. 

These elements, foreign as they are, combine rather naturally. The denser texture suits Hawke’s guitar playing nicely, and the altered vocal tone brings a refreshing timbre to the lead sound. “Sweet Tooth” is certainly one of the album’s highlights. 

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“South Elroy” provides another spot of innovation. Like “Sweet Tooth,” it ups the tempo and fleshes out the texture, injecting a cheerful energy into the track while keeping its sound mellow. This energy is apparent right from the beginning as piano and synth join the signature acoustic guitar. 

The lyrics are somewhat predictable again, but the added textural interest carries over to the melody which, while still simple, is more dynamic and satisfying. Light strings and background vocals further complicate the track, and when everything drops out but Hawke’s voice and a background synth, the contrast from the rest of the tune makes the shift much more impactful. 

For the most part, the album’s strongest points lie in its most varied pieces, but “Thérèse” makes a solid argument for Hawke’s typical sound. This song steps up the intensity, not in its instrumentation, but in its harmony and rhythm.  

Strong minor harmony pulls the listener through the chords in a deeply satisfying way, with delayed half step movements adding tension and release, while unpredictable rhythms keep the listener on their toes.  

A backbeat makes a brief and unexpected appearance in the back third of the song, recontextualizing the laid-back feeling of the rest of the tune and disappearing as quickly as it arrived. “Thérèse” proves, even within her preferred sound, Hawke can branch out to create something truly special. 

The album makes a decent closing statement on “Mermaid Bar.” It begins unsurprisingly, with Hawke’s acoustic guitar and soft voice, but she brings back the drums and bass halfway through. Adding this rhythmic consistency makes the gentle texture feel much more comfortable and even adds a slight groove to the low-key tune.  

“MOSS” is a rather conflicting album. Its highlights show extreme promise; the few risks Hawke takes pay off spectacularly, branching out from her trivial, delicate sound into more alluring waters.  

These risks make the rest of the album more disappointing though, with its long stretches of songs that seem to bleed into one another with their lack of variation. It’s a certain style that is appealing to some, but Hawke has proved that she can also make colorful, compelling music outside of it. I look forward to the album she releases when she fully embraces that. 

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