MORGAN HARPER-JONES – Up To The Glass (Play It Again Sam)

Up To The GlassHailing from Rochdale and describing herself as a 70-year-old woman trapped in the body of a 25-year-old musician who loves knitting, afternoon-tea, baking and listening to old songs, Harper-Jones thanks the therapy she undertook to deal with the grief and mental health repercussions of losing her paternal great grandparents and grandparents within a short period for unlocking the issues she’s exploring on her debut album, Up To The Glass, of which she says “It’s my most honest work to date and much of it came from trying to process events and make sense of feelings that I’ve been needing to address for a very long time”. Part of that was a questioning of her self-worth, as both a person and an artist, overthinking what she was doing and constantly looking for reassurance, compromising her work in the process.

Co-writing with Iain Archer, many coming together sketched out in her bedroom, with the intention of capturing how she felt without any veils drawn over, it opens with the bubbling ripples of the catchily irresistible Suzanne Vega-like ‘Swimming Upstream’, a song about going with the flow and finding the positive in what is and not mithering over what might have been (“Just a couple weeks back I met this guy who got hit by a bus when he turned 18/In and out of hospital for 30 months but 30 years on he wouldn’t change a thing/He said it’s easy chasing what might have been/You think it’s a nightmare but it’s only a dream”), to stop “picking fights with a ghost” and realise that “When every wall around me is caving in/It feels like the end of the world but it’s only the start of something”.

Inspired by the iconic scene in the John Cusack film ‘Say Anything’ (“I’m here on your front lawn/Playing love songs on repeat”), ‘Boombox’ is jubilant bouncy Taylor Swiftian pop that starts out about unrequited love (“I’m here out in the dark/Throwing shooting stars for you/I’m trying to get your attention/But nothing’s ever bright enough to reach you/I’m underneath the street light by your window/If you never see me am I invisible?”) before moving on to braving rejection (“I could stay, but it’s too cold/I’m running out of stones to throw/So let me in/Or let me go”) so you can move on.

More energetic bubbly synth-pop with a motorik hint, ‘Leaves’ is also about cutting your losses , going from “After you got back to Denver you made it clear this that you could never/Keep it going long distance/Cut your own heart out/Told me that it made sense and when you hung up/I was angry/Crying for the bathroom floor to come and swallow me” to accepting “Some things are out of control/Those days are gone and you can’t hold on and you know that/It’s a long way to the summer/And you don’t have to cry it’s only like leaves in the autumn/The harder you try to bring it to life the less/It will blossom”.

Slowing it down with some gurgling electronics and scuffed drums, ‘Alone’ plays the opposite card (“Hey I know It’s late and probably strange to call like this/I told my friends I blocked you and forgotten you exist/I don’t know if it’s you or familiarity I’m missing/Anyway I know it’s probably not the best idea/But this bed is so wide I thought it might be nice if you were here… You know you broke my heart last year but I’ll let that one slide/If you hold me like you mean it I won’t try to read your mind/Can we act like it’s forever for tonight”).

The slow and tender ‘Main Character’ returns to teenage years and angst (“I was 15 by a bathroom sink, two confessions you were trusting/I couldn’t keep it /And I lost you too/I still regret it/I still dream about you… And then 19 I knew all your songs I started writing to get your attention/And when you got sick I let you bench your dream/Just to keep you/

Just thinking of me”) with its break-up aftermath (“And I saw your new love, she looks like me but kind”) as it builds to a screaming cathartic crescendo of released anger and hurt (“I don’t want to be like this, but I am/I don’t want to hurt you like this, but I can/But there I go again stealing the credit I can’t be the hero I’m too fucking selfish”).

Bass humming, the softly sung ‘Forever For Now’ (shades of Janis rather than Joni) takes it back down for a song about a relationship she felt was doomed to end (“I won’t make a promise that I can’t keep/I’ve been so used to relying on me/Don’t know for sure yet if you’ll always be what I need/But no need to doubt ‘cause it feels like forever, for now”).

Moving back into mid-tempo territory, ‘Lose A Tooth’ mingles storytelling (“Sarah combs her hair in the petrol station bathroom/You wouldn’t know she’s late/Reading the headlines while she’s bored in the queue/On her way to work she pretends he’s sat beside her/Let’s the radio play and imagines how he’d sound if he sang the words”) with metaphor (“It’s sad to lose a tooth/Even harder losing someone you/Thought would always hold you to the roots… An empty space you try to chew/It over on the other side/A tender place you talk/I fill up the gap that’s left behind”) to bittersweet effect in its lament for her grandparents.

Fingerpicked and vocally double-tracked, the intimately swirling ‘Joshua’ was written for someone she felt she wanted to be with but could see all their flaws, making the right decision in the end (“I don’t think about you/Half as much, as I used to/I don’t need to wake you up/You chose the pursuit of dopamine/Flying too close to the sun”) but the song offering some affectionate advice (“You don’t have to run from every heart that wants to stay…You know you only lose out when you push the light away… are you still trying to swim against the current/Holding on to your insurance for dear life?”), for herself as much as them.

Mutually destructive relationships are at the heart of the slow ambling ‘Little Avalanches’ with its soaring crowd friendly chorus sway and traces of early Radiohead, while, a punchier, striding number, the propulsive pop ‘2D’ is another about feeling invisible in a relationship (“Feels like the light just passes through me/In this never-ending movie…/I don’t know what I miss the most/The blast or the silence…Whenever we talk we’re stuck in 2D/Caught up in a bad dream/Trying to reach for you”).

She reins back in on the penultimate ‘Amelia’, a song for a best friend and her support during those difficult times of loss and grief (“Amelia’s thoughts are like lavender/Heart like a dream catcher – she’s soothing…even when she stumbles, she finds silver in the street”)

It ends with the reverberating percussive notes and intimately sung ‘Easy’, a dreamily floating song about not bottling up your emotions (“Don’t cry if you’re all burnt out/Caught on a wire/Don’t be scared when you get found out/You don’t need to see it all to make the art/You don’t need to hide your teeth to bare your heart”), of learning to let go of the baggage your carry (“These bags were never mind to lug around/And one by one I’m learning how to put them down”), acceptance (“I’ve found comfort in the company of ghosts”) and of the realisation that “They say that anything worth fighting for/Won’t come easy/And in the meantime it’s okay to ask for help/And to take a breath when I get overwhelmed”, and remembering “to be patient with myself/And take it easy”.

She says “I feel like I’ve finally accepted that it’s okay to feel however I want to feel without apologising for that, as long as I try my best and don’t behave like an arsehole I’m all good”. As Up To The Glass ably evidences, she’s far more than good.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Boombox’ – official video:

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