Album of the Day: Common Holly, “Playing House”

On “If After All,” the opening track of Common Holly’s debut album Playing House, Brigitte Naggar repeats the mantra “Let’s take this one day at a time,” her words echoing gently over a staccato acoustic guitar arrangement. The soft, melodic timbre of her voice is soothing—it’s almost as if she’s trying to convince herself to follow her own advice. Those simple words, delivered in Naggar’s comforting voice, arrive at the center of a piercing, intimate tale about pushing forward, leaving behind the demons that haunt you. “If After All” is a brief, unguarded glimpse of the Montreal singer’s journey toward growth and freedom.

Playing House is full of moments like this, and Naggar’s wordplay, and the forcefulness and ingenuity of her writing, give each of them a sense of urgency. And while “If After All” boasts a manic arrangement, going from beautiful folk guitar to cavernous string section to math rock finish, it’s an outlier. On House, Naggar mostly dabbles in minimal folk (“Nothing”), occasionally shading her songs with hints of the blues (“In My Heart”). On “Devil’s Doubt,” a song about uncomfortably settling into adulthood and the sadness and wisdom that accompanies it, she gilds her sparse country with a cinematic string arrangement, adding both gravity and depth.

That theatricality continues on “Lullaby,” featuring celebrated French Canadian composer Jean-Michel Blais. True to its name, the song is a strange, sad bedtime story, in which Naggar finds herself consciously maintaining her distance from a past love. Her haunting voice, the sparse, tinkling piano, and the soft guitar melody are blanketed in a thin layer of reverb that, much like the subject in the story she’s telling, keeps her at a distance from the listener. This is where Naggar shines, composing sonic experiments that perfectly embody the sentiments her lyrics contain.

Playing House ends with the track “New Bed,” a song that’s about more than just Naggar getting new sheets. Under a veneer of static, she says goodbye to her old surroundings and her old friends, and welcomes—with some trepidation—the strangers that await in the future. And, once again, she vows to take life one day at a time.

Amaya Garcia                

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