It’s fitting that Maya Hawke’s second album ‘Moss’ is being released as wide-eyed youngsters return to their classrooms, blank exercise books ready for another year of learning. “A lot of the songs [on this record] are me writing the songs I wish I’d written when I was 15,” the musician and actor told NME earlier this year, days after describing her new work as a “back-to-school record” on Fallon.
Like days of dusting off textbooks after long, listless summers, ‘Moss’ feels tinged with curious excitement and the vulnerability of starting a new chapter. It comes as perhaps little surprise given her work in hit TV show Stranger Things and recent teen flick Do Revenge that Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, is looking back at her formative years. But ‘Moss’ is familiar and fresh, not just a retread of the same qualities that made her 2020 debut ‘Blush’ so beguiling, nor a pastiche with playground clichés.
“I want a gym routine, self-obsessed, hardly dressed teen dream,” Hawke sings on the fingerpicked ‘Hiatus’: “Who cares about sunscreen and loves to make me Wilhelm scream.” It’s wistful and longing, but this return to high school days isn’t one that’s purely rose-tinted. Across 13 tracks, the 24-year-old explores relationships with others, her parents, herself and the world at large, each accompanied by its own distinct, complex palette of emotion.
‘South Elroy’, bright and laden with bursts of electric guitar and little beeps, is drained but lustful, knowing but willing to cast aside common sense to return to a lover who “took all the colour out of my eyes”. The recent dreamy single ‘Thérèse’, inspired by a painting at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, tackles societal ideas of gender and femininity, while ‘Driver’ longs for the return of the nuclear family unit she once knew. “I imagine my mum and dad / Loosely necking in the back of a taxi cab,” she sings softly over melancholy melodies. “I’d give everything I’ll ever have to see them happy / Kissing just like that.”
The latter song highlights the whole point of returning to Hawke’s teen years almost a decade later – that she can use the 20/20 vision of hindsight to capture that time maturely, rather than melodramatically. By the song’s end, she has come to some form of acceptance: “Thinking of you makes me happy / Happy that my father, he got free / That even though it hurt me / He can be whoever the hell he wants to be.”
Just as lyrically ‘Moss’ presents Hawke in wiser form than if she had really written these songs at age 15, sonically it also elevates her from the incarnation of her that created ‘Blush’. That record was sparse and stripped back, its focus on a minimal foundation of acoustic instruments. This time around, she’s taken a more expansive approach, adding in subtle but important touches of synths, electric guitars and strings that signal moments of tension in the songs, or simply flesh them out to lusher, more beautiful versions.
Maya Hawke might not be preparing to go back to school, as the character at the heart of this record would be but, if she were, ‘Moss’ would guarantee her top grades.
- Release date: September 23, 2022
- Record label: Mom+Pop