Above everything else, I just want musicians to be honest. This isn't some desperate, doomed quest for authenticity and the flawed conceit of being real; I just want them to sound like they give a shit. Music is comfort to so many people, and going through the motions is the absolute worst thing you can do. If you feel like you've got nothing left to say, just stop talking.
San Diego's Jack Harwell, aka littlecoaldove, sounds like he gives a shit. Since February last year, he's uploaded a string of extremely personal EPs and singles to Bandcamp, which paint a picture of someone searching for himself within his life. Both musically and in tone, it's closely aligned with Jeff Klein's Everybody Loves A Winner and Her Space Holiday's Home Is Where You Hang Yourself - difficult, yearning honesty that has no desire to soften your landing. If you're uncomfortable hearing it, that's because you should be.
I asked him about his upcoming plans and forthcoming music:
"These songs have sort of just been released as they come. I have been writing a lot about mental health, illness etc, so I have to sort of be in the state of mind to write them. Darkened apartment, little contact with friends and family. But I am working my way to a full-length, hopefully at the end of the year."
The upshot to this method of release is that you get to track his progress as you work back through the EPs. The almost tentative nature of Failed Attempts to Fly sees him in straight singer-songwriter mode, exploring the limits of his voice and keeping the arrangements simple. The evocation of regret and abandonment is as present as it is elsewhere, but he's yet to capture the essence of that weighty subject matter.
When 'Dreamer' is reprised on the Collector of Scars demo a few months later, it's a brighter, focused creation that sits on a cyclical lead guitar figure. And when The Way It Is / The Way It Was EP arrives on the reversed guitar of the title track, it's gratifying to hear littlecoaldove begin to evolve into a genuine project, dropping drums into the mix and experimenting with sound as texture. The melodies are more memorable now, the voice more certain.
With recent releases, littlecoaldove seems to be growing into something more electronic and ambient, with current single 'Isolation' the standout moment. Here Harwell has hit upon something that feels natural, despite the more synthesised sound. His grasp on the song's narrative is impeccable as he states, matter-of-factly, "I'll get where all dying things go in the end / I see them lined up like lanterns lighting up the highway / each one a star in the night / so fucking far... so pointlessly far away." As the music begins to swell, it promises a climax but never intends to deliver; instead the bottom drops out and we're left stranded. Harwell reappears seconds later, but is now content to ride the song to its conclusion on a wordless, multitracked vocal. It's telling that the acoustic reprise is just as effective.
When someone labels music as depressing, my usual response is fuck off. There's an incredible comfort within resolutely downbeat compositions that will always be there for you, waiting with a healing potential that's nothing short of heroic. Every one of those songs has tiny traces of redemption somewhere, no matter how bleak it initially seems.
littlecoaldove feels like music that could help people. There's a restlessness there, a refusal to accept defeat and a willingness to face despair in the hope of finding beauty. That's all you could ever ask for, really.