Review: Elizabeth Moen Emphasizes Her Idiosyncratic Approach on’Wherever You Aren’t’

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Elizabeth Moen

Wherever You Aren’t

(self-released)

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Iowa-born and raised singer/songwriter Elizabeth Moen’s music and idiosyncratic flair have never been easy to pigeonhole. That has become more obvious the further she gets into her still nascent career. 

Even on her folksy debut in 2017, recorded on a shoestring, Moen combined soul, jazz, folk, and indie rock with a peculiar yet compelling and assured voice that meshed aspects of Laura Nyro, Rickie Lee Jones, Chrissie Hynde, and Brittany Howard. Nearly six years, some EPs and an album later, she has only become more difficult to describe. Which, in her case, is a good thing.

The diverse Wherever You Aren’t follows her largely darker and starker keyboard oriented 2020 EP Creature of Habit. The two-year break shows major changes and maturation which now includes enhanced production and a harder approach that’s edgier and even more personal than before.

It hasn’t been easy though. These ten tracks were recorded piecemeal over a period of time. Starting with the opening “Headgear,” which came to fruition in Ireland in 2019, ending with sessions in San Francisco, and tracking vocals and overdubs in a variety of locations, Moen’s often unusual and unpredictable music reflects the restless spirit that created it.

The tempo alterations in “Headgear” (the title refers to a mouth guard she wears at night), which morph from prickly indie rock to rubbery funk and include the lyrics My mind is faster than it thinks to run away/to where it doesn’t need to be, implies why her music, like her brain, is always on the move. There is a subtle swing toward noir blues on tracks such as “Soft Serve” which brings sax to the twisty instrumental mélange with lyrics about trying to hang on to love through the summer.

Moen gets soulful, shifting into falsetto, on the often bizarre twists of “Emotionally Available.” She alternately floats and stings on “You Know I Know,” which glides around an easygoing country shuffle singing with resignation There are people I can always turn to/You know I know you know I know they aren’t you, closing with her voice stiffening like a tinny phone speaker If you don’t wanna talk at all or at least for a while, I get it.

These songs, like Moen’s elastic, fluctuating yet always riveting vocals, veer and careen through genres, tempos, and styles with remarkable ease and flexibility that’s honest and unpretentious. I’m not easy all the time, she sings on “Differently” which also can apply to her alternative-minded compositions.

We wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Photo courtesy All Eyes Media

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