Hudson, New York duo Babehoven continue to push their genre-bending sound further within the intersection of folk, ‘indie,’ and shoegaze, while turning deeply inward within their debut album, ‘Light Moving Time.’
Stream: ‘Light Moving Time’ – Babehoven
In the final months of 2019, my friend Tim recommended the book Heavy, by Kiese Laymon, to me, as we had a brief, and possibly a little forced conversation about books we recently read, and enjoyed. And enough time has passed that I do not remember his exact words to me while we stood near one another in a coffee shop, each waiting for our respective drinks—but he told me something to the effect of the last person he was in an intimate relationship with had told him he needed to read it before he even considered becoming involved with anyone else.
I would, roughly a year later, go on to pick up a copy of Heavy, read it, and enjoy it as much as one is able to say they can “enjoy” a book that is simply so bleak and graphic, but shortly after this exchange with my friend, in looking up the work of Kiese Laymon, I saw the title of his debut collection of essays — How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and by the title alone, I knew I had to begin there.
It isn’t in the titular essay within the collection, which was originally published in 2013, then revised and re-released around two years ago, but there is this moment within the piece “You Are The Second Person,” an essay which breathlessly details Laymon’s extremely disenfranchising experience when he was originally trying to find a home for his young adult oriented novel Long Division. And I think about that moment—not a lot, but enough, and I thought of it this morning—albeit I remembered it, and the quote surrounding it, a little incorrectly, while I was trying my best to unpack the intersection I have noticed slowly forming within the dreamy, indie folk adjacent duo Babehoven, their new full-length album Light Moving Time (out now via Double Double Whammy), and my regularly fragile and often poor mental health.
“Still too ashamed to really reckon with your disease or your failures,” Laymon writes in the essay, “And too cowardly to own your decisions, you stretched your legs out on the floor of your living room and cried your eyes out. After crying, laughing…you grabbed a pad and scribbled, ‘Alone you sit on the floor….’ After writing for about two hours, you wondered why you’d started the piece with, ‘Alone, you…’ You are the ‘I’ to no one in the world, not even yourself.”
He continues: “You’ve eviscerated people who loved you and made you the second person in their lives, when they put the relationship’s needs ahead of your wants. And you’ve been eviscerated for doing the same thing….”
“You look down at the browning S key on your keyboard. You don’t know how long you’ll live. No one does…You know it’s time to admit to yourself, your writing, and folks who love you that you’re at least the second person to feel like you’re really good at slowly killing yourself and others in America.”
And within this, it is the admission to yourself.
The admission, perhaps, of something you already know but are unwilling to truly understand or acknowledge as much as you could, or should, even as it is forming within the center of that intersection.
The words I wrote in an essay that I wrote specifically for a literary magazine contest are true and worth the understanding and acknowledgment that I do not always give them.
It is always worse in the morning. All of it.
And what has stayed with me, and lingered like a specter over a majority of this year since I was first introduced to the band Babehoven around the time they released their majestic EP Sunk is a song I heard while researching the band’s earliest material to gain a better context — what has resonated the most and might be something, truthfully, that will stay with me for an unprecedented amount of time as I move forward in life, and that I have thought about literally every day since I heard it, was not the music found within Sunk, but rather, the opening track from the duo’s 2021 release, Nastavi, Calliope.
There is an often unrelenting nature to the way that Babehoven’s founder, vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, Maya Bon, delivers her lyrics — it isn’t desperate. No, not exactly, but there is an immediacy that simmers within her often lower, regularly hazy-sounding voice.
“It’s hard to talk about it being a bad week when it’s been a bad week for a long time now,” Bon sings within the opening seconds of the song, fittingly titled, “Bad Week.” “And it doesn’t seem to get better — and if it’s so hard, then why should I keep going? It shouldn’t sound as sad as it does, but it’s just sad to say. It’s been a bad week for so many weeks now,” she continues, drawing out the words in certain places to the point where it sounds like begging, or pleading, and then letting the tumble effortlessly on top of the distended electric guitar strums just below. “And I see the positives, but it’s just so hard to ignore there’s so much trouble, and there’s so much fire. I’ve been weary, and I’ve been trying to keep my head above water and keep above lying down. It takes a train sometimes to pull me out, and I don’t have the energy…to keep fighting.”
“But I’ll keep on fighting — I’ll do it. Even at the darkest times when I feel I’m cracking in two.”
It’s always worse in the morning. All of it.
And even with a rudimentary knowledge of the band’s previous material, you could look at, and hear Light Moving Time as a convergence for Babehoven in terms of the way the project has grown in scope and ambition since its inception roughly four years ago. Launched initially as a solo outlet for Bon, after two years and two initial EPs, she was then joined by collaborator Ryan Albert for subsequent releases under the moniker.
Sunk was not a departure from the sound Albert, and Bon had begun crafting together over the last two years, but rather a sign of growth—slightly moving away from the experimental, at times claustrophobic and dark, and often lo-fi sound, and easing themselves into something hazy, swooning, downcast, and seemingly shoegaze inspired at times—a point of reference I continued returning to while analyzing Sunk was the beloved group Mazzy Star.
And in spending so much time in analyzing Sunk, upon its release this spring, what I could surmise was that Babehoven was not a restless band by any means, but a band that was becoming more confident the further they pushed themselves, and Light Moving Time, then, is the culmination of where the band had been, where they would like to go, and how they are going to get there.
Structurally, across Light Moving Time’s ten tracks, Babehoven finds a way to seamlessly shift between their myriad aesthetics—at times, leaning heavily into the penchant for a somber, skeletal approach steeped in experimentation. Other times, crafting a robust, smoldering, “full band” sound with slow-motion percussion, keeping time behind the woozy swirling of electric guitars. Even as Babehoven continue to blur the lines between “indie rock,” folk, and shoegaze, there is a surprisingly cohesive nature to the album that I think is due, at least in part, to the uniqueness of their sound—there is an evocative nature that the duo carries from the moment it begins until it concludes, and Bon, as a singer, has an urgent ferocity within her voice that is unmistakable regardless of a song’s arranging or instrumentation.
If you are in need of, or searching for a mission statement, or a thesis of sorts, in Light Moving Time, you will find it within the album’s opening track –
— at least with regards to the kind of ever-shifting dynamics and ton that Albert and Bon cover within the eerie, simmering “Break The Ice.”
Quite incredible in how deliberately slow of a fade in the song begins with, introducing us to the strumming of the acoustic guitar that creates a sense of unease and tension lasting roughly 25 seconds before Bon’s voice appears—though disembodied. Low and intentionally muffled, it sounds like she is singing the first few lines of “Break The Ice” from another room completely—not shouting to be heard, but just projecting her voice as far as it will go so it becomes an element floating within the tension the song is effortlessly building.
Bon’s voice does finally arrive, in full, roughly after a minute, on the extraordinarily vivid and poetic lyric, “I loved you like a house minder, a house fire,” she coos. “I wanted nothing but to break the ice.”
And it is on that line when the rest of the song’s instrumentation comes tumbling in—tight, crisp-sounding drumming and percussion to propel “Break The Ice” forward with a woozy shuffle, as well as a distended electric guitar, bending and pulling its strings to punctuate through a gorgeous kind of dissonance.
And that is the thing—you can hear it within “Break The Ice,” yes, but it is indicative of the rest of the album as a whole. It’s this collision of something beautiful and often emotionally stirring or moving, with something discordant and unnerving. And here, it is something that Bon and Albert introduce early on within the slightly off-kilter way the vocals are sung, and the sharp edges to the electric guitar flourishes, but it is most apparent and most impressive, in the portion of the song where Bon begins breathlessly singing, “I feel sick sick sick, sick sick sick,” against a gentle snare drum roll that almost brings the simmering feeling of the song to the point where it will boil over, but it never does. “You got sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick,” Bon continues. “I lost everything I loved—close to you, close to you; I lost it all.”
Not every song, at least in the first half of Light Moving Time, lives or needs to thrive in this sense of hazy place of unease and strain — the album begins to open up a little more the further into its first half you get, and, eventually, becomes slightly more approachable and accessible to a more casual listener.
This shift begins in the album’s second track, “Marion,” which is among its most robust in arranging and instrumentation, and it is one of the places you can really hear the band’s ambition and growth coming through with just how densely layered of a song it is. Beginning with a glitchy, dusty drum machine sound keeping time, enormous strums of an acoustic guitar and ramshackle percussion come in to craft one of the more folk-leaning, idiosyncratic sounding moments on Light Moving Time—there is something subtly dizzying and hypnotic within how “Marion” unfolds, though, and I was surprised to find there was an actual groove woven into the fabric of it that made it an unlikely candidate of a song to nod your head along to.
As Light Moving Time’s first half continues, two of the album’s advance singles are sequenced back to back — the smoldering, slow motion “I’m on Your Team,” and the dreamy, swaying “Stand It,” both of which are the album’s most accessible sonically, and constructed around more traditional “pop” songwriting. “Stand It,” which is not as poignant lyrically when compared to other songs on the album, is more about creating a vibe overall with the instrumentation and rhythm, with Bon’s ethereal lyrics drifting gently through the haze — musically, it is the song that leans the hardest into shoegaze territory, becoming reminiscent of a few moments on My Bloody Valentine’s 2013 album MBV.
You’re looking silver like a dollar
And you’re tall
I’m wondering after all these years
Do I know you at all?
I’d rather stand outside in the cold
Than walk the way back to my home
I wish there’s something that I could say
I love you, but I hate you anyway
I know that she’s careless
But if you tried you could be there
You could stand it, I could stand it
If you could stand it, I could stand it
If you can stand me, I can stand it
You can’t stand me, I can’t stand it
And while the conceit of Light Moving Time is to document Babehoven’s continual growth and pushing themselves in different directions, there are, of course the echos of their previous output—and with Sunk being the most recent material from the duo prior to this full-length, a similar kind of downcast, guitar-driven “indie rock” aesthetic presents itself on the beautiful, crawling, and at times dramatic “I’m On Your Team.”
Like the standout track that opened Sunk, the sedated, swooning “Fugazi,” built around the rise and fall of quiet verses and a simmering theatricality in the way Bon would howl “An idea, you leave me breathless,” which served as the song’s de facto refrain, “I’m On Your Team” is an exercise in the band’s continued and intelligent use of tension and release. Beginning almost as a whisper in terms of just how reserved the warbled, lower guitar strings are strummed, and a kind of haunted sounding midrange within Bon’s vocals, allowing it to build for about a minute until the rest of the instrumentation kicks in, and Bon’s voice develops an Angel Olsen-esque western twang to it. “I’m On Your Team” does not, musically or vocally, wander too far into a kind of country-inspired sound, but you can get the impression that the band is circling the idea while the song itself continues to spiral and grow.
Across Light Moving Time’s ten tracks, there is a very deliberate way to how they are sequenced, in terms of tone —
– this is, of course, admirable, and it is worth noting that the album is worth sitting with uninterrupted from beginning to end, but there are moments in the halfway point where the pacing, or at least the woozy momentum that the band has spent the time crafting, begins to falter slightly.
Within an album like this, I hesitate to use a word like “energetic,” because there is such a quiet, reserved, slower nature to a majority of Light Moving Time, and Babehoven’s canonical work as a whole, so it is not exactly music that is synonymous with sounding exuberant; however, there is a noticeable shift in the impulse as the album reaches “Circles” and “Philadelphia”—both of which are much moodier, and far less robust in instrumentation, than other songs included in this set, and their placement back to back at the middle of the record truly slow down the album’s gait.
The second half of the album, then, is more uneven in terms of the balance in tones than the first side, so the steadier pacing is something never really recovered as Bon and Albert move between more atmospheric and dissonant pieces, allowing space for one last song that’s more accessible and a little brighter in dynamics, “Pockets,” which, like “Stand It,” leans into a dense, shoegaze inspired aesthetic; though in the case of “Pockets,” it features some of Bon’s more striking imagery within her writing — “You’re hoping that if there is a god, that they don’t search your pockets at heaven’s gate and find the voices that drove us apart,” she utters within the song’s second verse.
It’s always worse in the morning. All of it.
It is the admission to yourself of, perhaps, something you already know—something you are simply unable to avoid facing, but are unwilling to truly understand or acknowledge as much as you could, or should.
Like Sunk and Nastavi, Calliope before it, Light Moving Time is musically a compelling album. Within all of its shifts and turns, it is full of rich textures, and complexities, and is often surprising throughout. But it is Bon’s lyricism, and the way she delivers those lyrics with a voice able to reach otherworldly highs and lows, that makes this such a fascinating listen. Her songwriting, of course, is at times fragmented, or cloaked in a shroud of poetic ambiguity, regularly brimming with vivid imagery—but it is within the few, fleeting moments when that ambiguity is dropped, and something more profound and more truthful is revealed, and it those moments that are the most resonant with me—the creation of a more thought-provoking and personal experience and connection between artist and audience.
During one of my earliest listens of Light Moving Time, it was coming out of the speakers on my laptop, filling the space as best as it could within a small, quite simple cabin we had rented for a weekend outside of Duluth, Minnesota — literally, just across the road we turned off of to find our lodging, were the rocky cliffs of Lake Superior, which I could hear the hypnotic waves of in the distance during our entire stay, especially late at night.
My wife had taken the car and driven into Duluth proper to retrieve the materials needed to start a small bonfire, and our dog, restless, uncertain, but also partially interested in our new surroundings, was on the rickety futon.
Carefully slicing a yellow squash, and waiting for the stovetop to grow hot enough for the pan of oil to start sizzling, the dreamy, hazy qualities of the instrumentation and arranging to Light Moving Time were easy to notice while I sautéed the squash, but it was Bon’s lyrics that, more than once, stopped me in my tracks and had me wondering if I had, in fact, hear her correctly the first time.
There is, of course, a poignancy in specific lines throughout the album — “Learning how to be angry but not be mean,” from “I’m On Your Team,” being one of the most profound within the first half; and there is, of course, the unnerving pleas, steeped in vivid, albeit vague imagery, from “Break The Ice,” where Bon howls with a terrifying urgency in her voice—“I lost everything I loved…I lost it all.”
And it is within the second half of the record when the severity and immediacy of Bon’s writing is much more apparent and resonant as a listener.
“Philadelphia,” which arrives after the halfway point on Light Moving Time, is one of the more atmospheric tracks on the record, and the dark, unsettling arranging created is where Bon pens some of the more literal and starker lyrics.
Set to a low, pulsating drone that eventually swells, a gently plucked acoustic guitar, and downcast electric strummed alongside it, Bon’s voice, regardless of how bleak the lyrics become, never leaves this very soothing, breathy register, which creates a surprising juxtaposition. “I don’t like the way you handled deciding not to be my friend,” she begins. “I don’t like the way you were when you left Philadelphia. Standing on this stolen land, I wonder how my brother’s hands look.”
“Philadelphia” is one of the songs that, while cooking a meager dinner in a very small kitchen within a simplistic cabin, had me do a double take, specifically in the song’s second verse. “I’m trying to live again without wanting to kill myself,” Bon coos. “Recommitting to myself—finding time to write about myself.”
The song itself never truly builds—the ominous droning swelling just to a point, but Bon and Albert never let it go, but it does begin to swallow everything else within the song as the final verse is quietly delivered before “Philadelphia”’s abrupt end—“I don’t like the way you handled shitting on my character when I’m doing all I can to manage it—I’m doing all I can.”
I’m doing all I can.
It’s always worse in the mornings. All of it. Every morning.
Arriving after “Philadelphia” is “Do it Fast” — the place within the record where the band more or less gives into the chaos they have been gently circling around within the first half. Musically, it is unrelenting in the way it oscillates in a disorienting spiral that is not found elsewhere within this collection of tunes, and Bon pushes her vocals into a place of sadness, desperation, and dissonance.
“On a ledge with brightness out ahead, stay up at the end,” Bon begins. “When I think of how it’s been, I want to get better.” However, the ominous tone of the song as a whole reveals this is simply a brief flicker of hope, or optimism, that is quickly extinguished midway through.
“And I’ve been thinking about how a hurricane was named after you,” she sings. “And how all of these signs show that I won’t make it through.”
“If it’s going to kill me, let it burn,” Bon commands near the song’s end, as “Do it Fast” reaches its bleakest lyric. “Just do it fucking fast because it’s starting to hurt.”
How all of these signs show that I won’t make it through.
It’s always worse in the mornings. All of it. Every morning.
Light Moving Time’s penultimate track is also its gentlest, or at least the song that has a strange, hard-to-describe feeling of comfort and reassurance to it. One of the longer songs on the album (nearly five minutes), “June Phoenix” is simply beautiful and dazzling as it unfolds, slowly and delicately within the swirling instrumentation of brushed percussion, folksy acoustic guitars, a low synth tone that ripples underneath it all, and the eventual appearance of a banjo.
The song is, musically, beautiful, yes, but it is the lyricism in “June Phoenix” that was the most striking, across the album, for me.
“June Phoenix” is steeped in a lot of reflection—of Bon about herself, but it finds her reflecting on a “you”—an ambiguous figure existing just outside the song’s boundaries. Her self-reflections are not unflattering exactly, but there is a sobering humility to many of them, an inescapable feeling of visceral sadness, loss, and the struggle of searching for hope in an otherwise ocean of hopelessness.
“I know that I have been a challenge in this life,” Bon admits a few lines into the song. “I have too many teeth; I have found ways to bite.”
One of the things that Bon does throughout all of the songs on Light Moving Time in her lyricism is walking the line between being extremely personal and almost confessional—taking herself right up to the edge of, perhaps, revealing too much, and maintaining the distance between singer and audience through the usage of dream-like, fragmented imagery and poetically inclined metaphors. “June Phoenix” is the place on the album where, just for a moment, she is the most personal or most revealing and honest in her writing.
“I don’t know how to give,” she admits midway through. “When I give, all I give, I get trampled. I am trying to write something funny to get a good rating this time—but I’m not funny.”
When I give all I give, I get trampled.
You’re at least the second person to feel like you’re really good at slowly killing yourself and others in America.
It’s always worse in the morning. All of it. Every morning.
And it is the admission — the admission Maya Bon makes to herself here, near the end of the album, that I have continued thinking about since it took hold of my attention weeks ago and has really never let go.
It is the admission—the ability to move beyond the fear you have of keeping something heavy within you, and not confessing it to someone directly but of putting it out in the world, somehow, not as an act of easing the burden for yourself, or on yourself, but with the small hope that somebody else out, there will find it, and will understand.
And it is Bon’s frankness and honesty about mental health—albeit slightly more dressed up in the usage of metaphor now than it was in the recent past, that continues to draw me to Babehoven as a project—it continues to keep me fascinated, and keep me intently listening.
I am really good at slowly killing myself and others.
When I give all I give, I get trampled.
It is the physical pain I feel, at first, in the morning.
One day, there was a sharp, awful, at times unspeakably horrible pain radiating from my lower back, and it has never gone away—not really.
This was in January 2019.
Roughly ten months after the pain initially began, and had yet to end, I am told it is due to a bulging disc in my spine. The material between my vertebrae buckled under the weight of simply existing and then slowly deteriorating.
And even during the portions of the day when the pain recedes slightly, and I find I am more comfortable than other moments, I have come to understand how fleeting those brief respites are. Because the pain, and the discomfort, always return.
It is bad in the evening — the longer that the day goes on, the longer I have stood, or walked, or sat with poor posture on the couch or at the kitchen table, the more difficult it comes to fold myself into a comfortable, or less uncomfortable, position on my side of the bed.
But it is always worse in the morning because there is a good possibility that I haven’t slept well and have been lying awake for an hour, occasionally looking at my watch or the alarm clock to see how much time is left before I actually have to pull back the covers and hoist myself out of bed.
It is before the hoisting when I can feel the pain — a dull roar or discomfort and inflammation stuck in a never-ending circling pattern near the end of my spine.
It’s always worse in the morning. All of it. Every morning.
The other day I was trying to describe to a friend what living with, and trying to function with, severe depression is like, or at least how it feels, and what I told her that it is like constantly trying to outrun something that is always a few steps behind you. And even during the portions of the day when this unspeakable sense of sadness and emptiness has receded slightly, and I find I feel like a different version of myself, I have come to understand how fleeting those brief respites are because the sadness and emptiness are always faster than I can ever hope to run.
And in the morning, it is before the hoisting when I can feel that pain—the torrent of sadness that crashes down upon me.
It’s hard to talk about it being a bad week when it’s been a bad week for a long time now.
I am trying to write something funny, but I’m not funny.
Light Moving Time, for an album that is as challenging as it can be — both musically, in the way it is perpetually shifting itself around in tone, and lyrically, with how Bon is willing to confront so much about herself within these songs — one might expect, or even anticipate that as it concludes, there is no real resolve from the things that are dissected and unpacked.
The album ends with “Often,” the third and final advance single released before Light Moving Time’s arrival in full—and it, like “June Phoenix,” is musically gentle—almost a lullaby. Pensively strummed acoustic guitar, with minor flourishes from a heavily effected, warbled electric, and a taut bass line that wanders slowly through it all, while lyrically, if there is any kind of acceptance or understanding, as difficult as those might be, to take from the larger themes, Bon has written about across the record, it is to be found here.
“You are family, and that means loss to me often,” Bon confesses very quietly in the final few lines of the song.”You are family, and that’s lost to me often. You will go, when you go, often.”
But even in this kind of reflective giving in, or resigning one’s self, it is also on “Often” where there is one final sliver of hope—“Now this isn’t so bad. I’m not hurting like I was hurting for some years.”
The spirit of Light Moving Time is not a restless one, but it, as an album from beginning to end, is certainly the sound of a band growing more comfortable in making open and honest music with one another,
and in that growth, it becomes the sound of a band that refuses to stop moving. As pensive as it can be harsh, there is a haunting, esoteric beauty to it, with melodies that surprisingly linger and swirl well after the record has come to an end. Lyrically, it is clear from even the band’s material from just last year that Maya Bon is not shy about revealing just enough of herself within her writing, but within these songs, there is a palpable fearlessness in what she is willing to share and the very literate, thoughtful way she is able to do so.
The album is an enormous, intricate, and poignant accomplishment that is completely unafraid of confronting something difficult, and it does so with an unwavering and surprising grace.
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? © Jessica Chappe
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