In Rotation: Electra Day – Quiet Hours

~Tirhakah Love (@GoonTherapy)

Electra Day (Julie Hampton) is fascinated with the directions and movements of the wind. Soft winds can illuminate pathways toward new spaces for knowledge and growth; gusts derail the everyday slog and push her away from familial ties. On Day’s debut album, Quiet Hours, the wind and nature, more generally, elucidate and guide Day’s life travels. Her one-woman folk show is filled with narratives both personal and external sung with little hubris over Day’s soft acoustic strum. Though sometimes falling on well-worn cliche’s, the record is meditative and nostalgic, uncovering Day’s difficult perspective of home through stories of melancholic travel and urgent returns.

When listening to traditional folk, it’s sometimes pretty difficult to determine if what you’re listening to is actually good. The voices are often flawed and vulnerable and the acoustic records can run together quite a bit. These considerations are found in droves on Quiet Hours. Day’s voice hardly matches the mystical, quasi-mythical, range as some of her inspirations but her wavering vibrato is strong enough not to completely dissuade. Her voice hardly leaps registers, to middling results. It works well when the pace picks up speed on tracks like “Endless Rocking” and “Romance of the Stars.” While on the former, Day recalls the moments where she had to trust her gut and make changes — once stemming from her watching the “I Have a Dream” Speech with her family and again when she hears Bob Dylan for the first time in 1971. Recounting a few firsts with an uncharacteristically bracing speed, Day continues the thematic thread of nostalgia set forth by the initial track, but with vocals that actually match the rhythmic pace. On an acoustic record where the songs can so easily run right into each other in terms of consistency, changing up the pace is a welcome sound.

Where it could’ve easily fallen into drab reminiscing, Day pens introspective stories about herself and the world around her — all enveloped within a frame that considers how the wind, the sun, and the stars have shaped her perspective. Over a soft melody on “Falcon’s Gaze,” Day proclaims the various moments in which she felt personally reborn. Whether it was “looking through a mirror,” or choosing a particular “road” when given a multiplicity of choices, Day’s ability to pinpoint these instances is noteworthy. Though the path towards this rebirth is painted in more vivid imagery than the first track, rebirth is not always an easy process. On “Ferry Song,” Day tells a great many stories instinctively signaling that changes are in order. But the nature of said change is rather vague. She says goodbye to her family on the record and hops on a ferry where the image of a woman–perhaps the woman she could come to love, embody, or become we don’t really know–appears. The strumming on “Ferry Song” is selective, leaving distinct silences that act as breaks from one narrative to another. The whole 10-minute concoction is her most impressive considering the time stamp. When the island on the other side of the ferry becomes war-torn, Day describes her enlisting–“I signed up as a foot soldier, spent the whole tour on the fronts”–getting shot and being mended by the woman who “showed up like a cloud.” The song is circuitous and rose-tinted, but such is the spiraling nature of life I suppose.

Day can seem slow. Quiet Hours is appropriately named here. Long held notes on tracks like “Falcon’s Gaze” and “Old Blind Couple” make the cuts undoubtedly sleepy. Coupled with Day’s relatively unvaried vocals, Quiet Hours, is much more about feel than a sense of rootedness. Perhaps that’s why the cliches sort of run amuck here. I’m not sure how often one should allow the wind to guide their decision-making, but based on her music, Day’s a free spirit. I just wish the liberty with which she frames her music extended so far into her vocal style. Of course, I’m not suggesting a complete overhaul for the sound but just more consideration on the ways that lyrics and subject matter can direct certain vocal choices. In “Big Sky,” alluding to the moments where the sky opened up to her in childhood could have been felt more directly if, perhaps, her voice were able to reach a more naive register. It’s definitely within her capabilities, as on “October Nights,” the bleak plucking matches both her lyrical style and subject matter. But it’s clear she’s still sorta finding her way.

Quiet Hours is a fine, vulnerable acoustic record from a musician just getting her chops up. It takes time to find a sweet spot; it takes a lot of listening and care to make something unabashedly and clearly your own. Quiet Hours is Electra Day getting there. The record is a bit bloated, with a song over 10 minutes long and a few more hitting the 7-minute mark as well. But it’s a worthy first venture into the oceans of folk. Day is still wading through the ripples, trying to find her way  to the shore.

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