Haroula Rose: Here the Blue River

Haroula Rose writes and sings about ways of escape on a record that doesn't offer easy answers but does give us hope.

Haroula Rose

Here the Blue River

Label: Little Bliss
US Release Date: 2016-03-25
UK Release Date: 2016-03-25

Haroula Rose casts a quick and unbreakable spell upon the listener within the first seconds of this remarkable 33-minute long-player. Armed with the sparest of instrumentation, namely acoustic guitar and the occasional textural wash of an electric six-string, unobtrusive drums and a dusky, impossibly ethereal voice, Haroula Rose seems incapable of faltering across these 11 compositions. Some, such as “Zion Beach, 1999” and “Premonition” are slight, impressionistic portraits that lend extra gravity to already weighty pieces such as “This Old House”. That’s as convincing a plea for reconciliation and fidelity as you’re ever likely to hear.

“Grass Stains”, meanwhile, is a poetic and lilting snapshot of longing. There, she captures both the promise and fears of new love or something that feels like it might be love. Are we temporary or permanent in the eyes of another? If Rose has the answer she doesn’t part with it in that scant three minutes and 20 seconds it takes the song to move by. Instead, she opts to let those questions linger for both protagonist and listener. It’s a lovingly rendered gift, one that finds us returning to the track as we try to piece together some kind of truth.

There’s certainly truth to be found in “The River (Drifting)”, an unsettling vignette wherein the Chicago-born vocalist keeps us hanging with each line. We wonder how the story will resolve and what it means. Is this a journey to something better or an act of desperate escape? It’s an emotional twilight that this record relies on again and again. It’s that same emotional twilight, with its periwinkle-tinged hints of truth and knowing, that propels us from this album’s first note to its last. Our heroine is elusive, like an answer that evades articulation, a mirage of satisfaction, a desire that can’t be tamed.

The toughest she ever sounds is on “Sirens”, which appears toward the end of this cycle. Its percussive lines and heavy beat alert us to pivotal moments in another narrative about disappearing, vanishing into a distant but inevitable newness with all its fears and promise of promises. Escape as a narrative device can be a bit of cheat because it creates a path that sometimes strays too far from reality. But that’s not what Rose is after here. She reminds us that newness itself is an illusion, that we carry ourselves from one moment to the next no matter where that moment plays itself out.

It’s hard to imagine a better, more promising voice to lead us down this path or to accompany us as we stumble through. Rose is an artist whose unhurried ways and sincerity seem culled from another time, a world less chaotic and less riddled with complications than our own. She’s no sunny optimist, mind, and yet she offers hope through these songs. More than that, her words and music offer a comfort that few artists can easily summon. Honestly? We have never needed such a beacon of sincerity as much as we need this one.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.