Music Critic Riley Wells reviews Eliza McLamb’s latest album ‘Going Through It’
Since first listening to Eliza McLamb’s debut album, Going Through It, it has become a current running beneath my day-to-day life. There is almost nothing else on my mind. Walking through the frost-tipped streets of Birmingham on a sunny morning, I am listening to ‘Before’ and feeling the soft, dappled guitar in the glare of the sun. When I text my childhood best friend, I am thinking of ‘Glitter’ and playing a match-up game between McLamb’s lyrics and our shared experiences. Scrolling through Tinder, entertaining unromantic small talk, I am listening to ‘Mythologize Me’ and questioning whether I really am interested in Jake, 23’s Midwest emo playlist on Spotify, or if I am just so good at feigning interest that I can even fool myself.
Eliza McLamb is an essayist, musician and co-host of the Binchtopia podcast. Prior to Going Through It, she had released two EPs, Salt Circle and Memos, and a handful of singles. Each of her works is rooted in keen self-observation and intimidating wisdom (how has someone lived so many lives at only 23?) but the album especially drives this self-intellectualisation further into true self-awareness. Not only has she ‘done the work,’ she is giving us the answers.
The opening track, ‘Before,’ eases us into the record with McLamb’s effortlessly gliding vocals and a fingerpicked guitar bobbing up and down as if on open water. We hear the futility of chasing the past in ‘a moment I’ll try to recapture / Through mushrooms and speeding through stop signs.’ Although there is always a baseline sadness to early childhood nostalgia, ‘Before’ is not wallowing. It is a song of acceptance and understanding, with McLamb holding her own hand as she struggles to let go of the past.
In ‘Glitter,’ a ballad of best friendship, the acoustic guitar gives way to fuzzed-out riffs bolstering McLamb against every girl’s enemy: her best friend’s boyfriend. Before long the soft tones characteristic of McLamb’s earlier releases build into a belting refrain, ‘that’s not what love means.’ It is a track that channels so much frustration into such a short runtime – at her friend, for putting up with a man that is so bad for her, and at herself, for being powerless to really evoke change. ‘Glitter’ was one of the first singles on the album, accompanied by a music video (McLamb’s directorial debut), and every shot feels as though it were lifted straight from a teenage girl’s memory.
‘Mythologize Me,’ the album’s first single, marks a drastic shift in McLamb’s production, setting aside the sad-girl-with-guitar trope and taking on a more defiant, satirical voice. It is sarcastic and snide and oh so funny when McLamb calls herself ‘just a boring anorexic’ or describes her partner trying to dull her character – ‘you shoot me a look and I know I’m misbehaving.’ ‘Mythologize Me’ is a perfect theme for girls recovering from crippling self-romanticisation, girls who saw Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and thought ‘hey, I could do that.’ McLamb even sprinkles in a little vocal fry at the end of the chorus, which may as well be a dog whistle to Binchtopia and Red Scare listeners alike. ‘All I can do is fantasize / About how you fantasize about me,’ she declares, her voice loosening into a drawl. It is not exactly a joke, but it is not something many people would admit to either.
This indie-rocker swagger meets critical self-observation in ‘Punch Drunk,’ a track that tells the story of someone settling for a situationship over real intimacy. It is not a new topic for McLamb; in fact it is explored at length in her 2020 EP Memos, but ‘Punch Drunk’ revisits the theme of romantic confusion with a refreshing maturity, and the ability to walk away to save one’s sanity. McLamb may have felt desperate in the past, but now she is done, and she is cutting off the limb to let the stump heal.
With ‘Crybaby,’ Eliza McLamb transports us back to the childhood of someone whose sensitivity is misunderstood and mishandled by those around them. She hold funerals for roadkill, she dulls herself with medication. Being a sensitive child is a blessing and a curse, as McLamb is well aware, soothing herself and us. ‘It’s okay to cry baby / When everything is so lovely,’ she reminds us. For once, maybe, we are inclined to believe her.
The following tracks continue the dive into McLamb’s childhood, addressed towards her father and mother respectively. ‘16’ is dissociative and distant, as if it were recorded underwater. It is grimy, it is targeted, and slightly accusatory – ‘“I don’t know what to do with you” / You say it often / Almost sounds like a good excuse / For doing nothing.’ To say ‘16’ is about teenage angst would be reductive. ‘Angst’ suggests melodrama, irrationality. To detach from reality after being forced to grow up too quickly is not melodramatic at all, and to be able to speak about such memories with McLamb’s candour is a mark of real emotional strength.
‘Bird’ strips the album down to its bones – the rise and fall of the vocals resemble a nursery rhyme, deceptively gentle, while the lyrics follow the torture of being drawn to people who remind us of the worst traits of our parents. The percussion also takes on a more prominent role in this track, which is not characteristic of the rest of the album but gratefully received, nonetheless.
‘Anything You Want’ showcases McLamb’s strengths in melody, as well as her greatest weakness – letting herself be loved without feeling as though she’s ‘earned’ it. In a Substack article explaining the meaning of the song, McLamb writes about opening up to her her not-then-boyfriend: ‘I was used to talking with no audience…now that I had a listener, I wasn’t sure that being heard was comfortable for me.’ If ‘Mythologize Me’ and ‘Punch Drunk’ are about flattening yourself for crumbs of validation, ‘Anything You Want’ is about the mortification of being known. Knowing the story behind it changes its colour completely, and offers us a moment of catharsis in an album with some very dark corners.
‘Modern Woman,’ the most recent single, grapples with the micro-identities forged out of recent social media trends – the girlboss, the sad girl, and other silicone molds impressed upon us as we navigate Instagram and Tiktok. ‘They love me when I’m miserable / Because I’m super marketable,’ McLamb half-jokes, bringing to mind countless ‘sad girl starter packs.’ Eliza McLamb is not a type of girl; she is every girl all at once. The chorus is intentionally vague, because this type of girl doesn’t have a catchy name – she is ‘anything that’s real.’
In short, Going Through It is a cutting, part-funny and part-desperately sad insight into Eliza McLamb’s life – being thrust into adulthood too soon, clinging onto what is left of being a little girl in the early 2000s, minimising oneself for men to gain affection without intimacy. It is idiosyncratic at some points, ubiquitous at others. But it is always beautiful.
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