Over the past few days, I drove to my old stomping grounds in Pennsylvania and then returned to my North Carolina home. Both road trips found me grooving to E Street Radio for hours on end due to the spotty connection my cellphone provider has along tree-lined I-85 and the rural areas it cuts through; although satellite radio fades out on occasion, it’s never for long. When 5G/LTE was available, however, I fired up Apple Music and listened to artists and albums frequent readers of this blog can likely predict, including Paul Weller’s Fat Pop, Southern Avenue’s Be the Love You Want, Lucy Rose’s Something’s Changing and, on the way home, Neil Young’s solo acoustic 1970 Carnegie Hall concert, which was released Friday (and that I plan to write about next week).
Also on tap was an album and artist recommended to me by a new reader: Place Is by koleżanka (aka Phoenix-born and Brooklyn-based Kristina Moore), which I wound up listening to once on the trip north and twice on the trip south. It held its own.
Place Is, her third album, was released on July 30th. She handles the bulk of the instruments (guitar, vocals, omnichord, synths, drum machines), while co-producer Ark Calkins handles the rest (drums, synth percussion, bass). It’s a fascinating album that’s accented by synths, guitars, syncopated melodies and rhythms, and vocals as clear as a Carolina blue sky. As a whole, it reminds me of both the synth-heavy new wave of the early and mid-‘80s and the too-brief pop-rock renaissance of the early ‘90s; others equate it to Cate Le Bon, Cocteau Twins and Stereolab. On top of that, there’s this: Moore possesses one of those voices that soaks through the skin and into the bloodstream—and a silky guitar sound that does the same.
The songs themselves were fueled in part by the transient nature of her life, which has seen her move, move and move again, and head out on the road time and again. Home is more a concept than reality, in other words, as are the intricacies of life. As she sings in “B2YP,” the third track, “what is a place and what is a home?/live in my suitcase/I don’t belong to anyone.” Within the touring life, when every night’s another town, another club, human connections often aren’t forged, but imagined. (As she told me long ago, for instance, Rumer never felt more alone than on tour.)
The album opens with “A Mouthful,” which gradually reveals a jazzy melody that, like much of the songs to follow, plays a slight game of tug-of-war with the rock-solid rhythm. “Am I brave if I look you straight in the eye?” she asks about an uninvited stranger sidling up next to her at the bar. The second stanza widens the scope, with an attempt to silence her unease leading to a drunken night on a rooftop. “I feel tired,” she sings by song’s end. “I feel.”
“$40” finds her asking “how can I tell the difference between quiet and a mind at peace?” and “how can I tell the difference between waking and asleep?” “Vegan Sushi,” the fourth track, continues to explore the quandaries of life on the road espoused in “B2YP”: “Have we wasted all our time?/here we go again/I don’t know how to define/what is home again/it’s a toast here every night/always the lament/have we wasted all our time?” An ominous, martial-like rhythm underscores the proceedings.
“7th st/7th ave,” on the other hand, finds the internal discord tempered by a sense of place—albeit in her mind—and an exquisite guitar solo: “I walk to the avenues/watch the sun debate a night/feels like some dramatic trope/themes of nostalgia/character plight/and place is a mantra/repeated till a voice is tired/oh what a sensation to/shiver in heat/112.”
“In a Meeting” delves into the reality of the stop-and-go life, which finds us waiting for just the right time to do this, that, and other things. “Words for No One,” meanwhile, ponders “Writing words for no one/With a hand that no one else could know/I never asked for this body/I never ask for much at all.” As with the “7th st/7th ave” and the track that follows, “The Offensive,” I hear a Liz Phair vibe. In fact, now that I’ve thought about it—and listened to the album several more times while writing this—a pronounced Phair feel echoes throughout.
In any event, the album comes to a close with “The Mountain,” in which she observes that “submission is the place you kneel before the hand that feeds you” while unfurling a poetic tale of leaving someone who doubted her. “All the things you thought you knew/it’s a shame I couldn’t say it/all the things we thought were true/it’s a shame.”
All in all, as I said up top, it’s a fascinating album that ably reflects life in the modern age. Though the pandemic has curtailed it somewhat, the transient and/or relocated life is a reality faced by many more folks than just musicians, truck drivers and the like, and even the stay-at-home life, which many of us now practice, causes a disconnect from “home” in a way, as it sometimes feels like a prison cell. “Place is a mantra” rings true to me, at least, as I’m sure it will for many who listen to Place Is. It’s an adventurous slice of jazzy pop-rock. I recommend it.
Here, koleżanka and some friends perform a few songs from the album in Oracle, Ariz. It’s a cool video and performance.
The track list: