Harriet – Tell the Right Story

Alex Casnoff, the man behind Harriet, has spoken candidly of the inspiration narrative has had on the creation of Tell the Right Story; the title itself enough of a clue. The five tracks on the EP all focus around characters with something of a rift inside them, from the guilt and anger infused breakup of “I Slept with All Your Mothers” to the tragic tale of a murdered child in heaven asking for his friends because, “heaven’s a little slow,” on “Send ‘Em Up.” Perhaps it seems cliché to have an EP’s worth of songs about those souls, upon which the world rests a little uneasily, but when the stories are told as genuinely as Casnoff does, it’s hard to not imagine him making a trip to the shops somewhat riveting.

Casnoff has spoken of the inspiration drawn from films as part of the songwriting process, having been, “influenced by screenwriters and dialogue almost more than poetry.” Much like films, music can be just as much about the way you tell the story as anything else. You can have an enthralling story, but – told the wrong way – the result is a mismatched and underwhelming affair. Most importantly for Tell the Right Story, Harriet not only has lasting narratives within the songs, but the storytelling and framework in the shape of the music gives the narrative motion and more accessibility. Subtle shifts in tempo and the use of Casnoff’s baritone, melancholic crooning play just as much a part in the storytelling as any of the lyrics.

The second track on the EP, “Soldier,” is one of the highlights and perhaps best exemplifies Harriet’s storytelling and musicianship. Narratively, the song describes a soldier returning to a life he hadn’t planned for or truly belong. He is returning to a newborn son, whose mother isn’t the one the soldier fell in love with, and working as a car salesman, where the other salesmen outlaw him for his love of Renoir. Lyrically, as much as musically, the song shows the rift of the soldier, and it’s enthralling. From the verse of slow staccato guitar, distorted and reminiscent of Grizzly Bear, we hear of the soldier’s plight and his return to the mother of his son, who he doesn’t love. The juxtaposition between the angular distorted guitar of the verse, swelling synth and dreamy Beach House-ish guitar line is excellent, and the touching lyrics, “…but you, you’re not in those memories, and you, you’re not in my fantasies, but you, you’re standing beside me now, hey you, babe, you’re alright with me,” rounds it off. The rift between the character’s true feelings and his sense of being faithful is an intriguing one, told perfectly by both the music and lyrics.

One of the great successes of Tell the Right Story is the instantaneous way the songs take hold of you. The aforementioned lure of Casnoff’s melancholic and aching vocals is something I challenge anyone to resist. They’re both likeable and catchy from the beginning. And with all of the talk of deep subject matter in the lyrics, Casnoff’s voice is something to behold. Whilst the narratives described so far have all been told over the course of whole songs, Casnoff’s voice allows him to tell almost as much of a story in a single line. The lament of the vocal melody and simplicity within some lyrics, in juxtaposition to some more detailed storytelling, are key to the success of the EP. In “I Slept With All Your Mothers,” between the irony and bitter nostalgia, the simplicity of the line, “Do you remember when we were driving in the desert; well I’m sorry I let the gas run out, I’m sorry I let the gas run out,” is so effective in its minimalism, and sticks with you well after the first listen.

The only track on the album that doesn’t live up to everything described so far is “Don’t Fight the Feeling.” It’s a slower number, to be criticized because of the almost plodding nature of the piano, guitar and drums in the verses, without a chorus or payoff to really save the song. While it is by no means a bad song, in comparison to the other four tracks, of such high standard, it seems somewhat forgettable, and the only place Casnoff’s vocals are anything but superb.

Likeable both instantly and after further listening and contemplation, Tell the Right Story is a success in almost everything it sets out to do, and whilst Casnoff has spoken a great deal about the narrative of the EP, the music is just as much a success truly shaping the storytelling, as well as being just as good in and of itself.