Erin Tobey's first album in over a decade was worth the wait.
After what felt like an everlasting ten years, Erin Tobey’s sophomore solo album Middlemaze has finally arrived. The album perfectly captures the transition into adulthood in a charming, earthy, and personable way. As an entire piece, Middlemaze explores punchy song structures while still dipping into Midwestern country folk twang. On a first listen through the album, I found myself comparing the tunes to the feeling of breathing in crisp cold air after popping in a mint: coolness, bold, and tangy.
This feeling is definitely true on her single, “I’m Young.” Unlike other tales of fleeting youth, Tobey brings a tongue-in-cheek confidence and approach to practical solutions, she gleams “I’m young / I can move a mountain/ Stone by stone.” You may say to yourself, "well anybody could do that?" However, are they willing, is Tobey willing? Even if she is not, she is capable. There is a practicality in her entrance into true adulthood; it takes on both a self-deprecating and self-assured tone. Although themes of fleeting youth are spread throughout the album, it is not entirely dismal. There is vibrancy in Tobey’s lyrical reflection and transitions, as she is not taken aback by life’s disadvantages and let downs. Instead, she confronts them with a level of cynicism that comes off as disappointment. Rough edges peer through songs on Middlemaze like cranes gliding among marshland reeds. Tobey’s voice is warm and low, but often welcomes a dragging fuzzy rubber band guitar sound. The album manages to be instrumentally eccentric without being ostentatious and loud, along with wonderfully curated without becoming homogeneous. It's physically sensual, leaving traces and tracks on the ear, both vocals and instruments traveling smoothly across its ten songs. Tobey has embraced sounds of soft anthems, twee, indie folk, and subtle reminders of her punk days with punchy percussion laid underneath songs like "Work it Out."
It makes sense when you hear that the album has been in the works for the past couple of years. There are several instances of Tobey’s attention to detail in the album. However, personally, "Leaf Pile" distinguishes itself the most, as it progresses new audio layers are discovered. There are several elements instrumentally that reminded me of everything from art rock to post-punk revival. There is something exceptional about the danceable grooves and angularity of the song against an overtly negative reflection on life. Tobey sings, "Several local murders in keeping with the season where everything dies, everything dies, everything dies / Only some are born again (Not the humans)." However, as is customary on Middlemaze, Tobey has learned to not embrace the negativity as much as is expected. It is revealed later in the song, that she is restful. Interestingly enough, her harmonic vocal contrast in the end allows for such an incongruent marriage with the instruments to exist. Never has Tobey’s voice given her listener any reason to doubt that she is not defiant or truly comfortable with the uncomfortable. The consistent themes of nature give weight to the idea of exploring the self without hesitation. Tobey’s exploration of nature is accessible, delving into scenarios of backyards are immediate interactions with the great outdoors. While it may be beautiful to see glorious mountainsides, she does not take for granted the connection to what is close to her. In Middlemaze, Erin Tobey has eloquently conjured pattern and rhythm both audibly and visually; her messages are the remnants of journal entries converted into poeticism. An everlasting ten years, but definitely worth the wait.
Listen to Erin Tobey on bandcamp.
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Brandi Fullwood is a self proclaimed Chopped Champion, music blogger and Millennial Youth with Potential™ She's a student at Middlebury College in the very brisk state of VT, where she studies Political Science and Film & Media Culture. Check out her #content on Twitter and Instagram.