Georgia Harmer Does Her Musical Lineage Proud on 'Stay in Touch'

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Apr 21, 2022

You don't get to choose your family, but Georgia Harmer leans into the mythos of her musical genealogy with the kind of effortless candour that may only be possessed by someone who has this in her blood. Harmer is already a household name thanks to the rock-infused folk of Georgia's aunt (and now label-mate) Sarah, but she cements the beginning of her own musical legacy on debut LP Stay in Touch.

A song like "Basement Apartment" is one that the most talented kid at your arts high school coffeehouse would attempt to naturalize as something they'd written; that was the magic of the universal specificity of the elder Harmer's own debut 22 years ago. Funnily enough, the title Georgia Harmer christened her first album with feels like a wink to You Were Here.

Prior to beginning to record her own songs at age 10, Harmer's parents met when they were both playing in her aunt's touring band. Though Georgia found her chosen family by jamming with a group of Humber College jazz students (guitarist Dylan Burchell, drummer Julian Psihogios and bassist David Maclean), linking up with engineer/producer Jasper Smith to record the LP at ArtHaus in Dufferin Grove, the younger Harmer has also already been road-worn, touring as a backing vocalist for Alessia Cara. "On the road and playing, just like you," she sings to her father on the blistering '"Austin," before promising to bring him back some Texas barbecue — one of the few playful, toss-away lines on a record full of glowing sentimentalizations.

The cool irony and dark humour of contemporaries like Phoebe Bridgers isn't a space Harmer occupies, but her words aren't any less powerful for their earnestness.

"Languages of seeing and being seen" is the type of unsuspecting turn of phrase that can stop you in your tracks when you finally process it. Underscored by bass harmonics from Ben Whiteley (Julia Jacklin, the Weather Station), it appears on the unconventionally quiet album opener "Talamanca," a finger-picked postcard from a trip to Mexico that serves as an ode to the kind of friendship that makes the night warm enough to fall in love with anything — yourself included.

It's far from the sole standout line on Stay in Touch, which is full of unassuming poetry, like the refrain of "Late at night, there is a fire on / All my life around it, singing songs" in "Austin."

And it's conscious on Harmer's part: "I live inside a poem," she sings on the languid, Norah Jones-evoking jazz progression of "Go Soft." Jane Hirshfield once described poetry as "an affection toward being," and these lyrics — emphasizing the singer-songwriter's repeated desire to live in and off of memories ("Homes," "Headrush") — show Harmer greatly affectionate toward the mechanics of interpersonal relationships, as well as the relationship with one's self: "What will I carry inside me? / Inherited pain, someday maybe a baby will make a home out of my body / And then I'll be forced to think of it fondly," she sings on "Be Here."

Even when she opens up to loftier topics, struggling with political futility over the washed-out guitar distortion of "Top Down" or confronting emotional manipulation on the chugging "All in My Mind," her affection for getting to study the experience never wavers. She urges the listener to reflect on folded-up moments of their own with as much retrospective reverence as the images she paints on this record — including the artwork's acrylic portrait of Harmer floating in the sky, which can't help but recall Joni Mitchell's self-portrait cover for her 1969 sophomore album Clouds

It's easy to get swept up in the lightness of Harmer's breezy melodies, but it's the heavy weight of the retrospective realizations — moments made meaningful — that get caught in your chest, multiple listens later. In the same way that we can't appreciate the gravity of how the present is unfolding until much later, she invites new perspectives with subtle lines that have the power to arrest, but only if you stay in touch.

And she delivers her truth bombs with such fluidity that they drop completely unexpected, wrapped with brown paper and twine by the drift of her clear-eyed, organic vocals. Much of Harmer's multifaceted, guitar-centric debut has the rootsy twang of more recent Big Thief offerings, as well as bandleader Adrianne Lenker's lyrical sensitivity, as she reconciles past lives and relational histories.

It may be a tough lineage to live up to, but her name assures that Georgia Harmer won't be a stranger to her innately musical way of being: thinking in winter tones, driven to excavate the fertile soil of memory for wisdom and awestruck by life's strange, wonderful orchestration of instants worth writing home about.
(Arts & Crafts)

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