dec 7 2022
Recently, I sat down and listened to all of alt rock singer-songwriter Poe's sophomore (and final) album, Haunted. I have a friend who is really into Poe's music, and they had shown me the song "Haunted," which I had really liked, but I had never listened to any of her other music. Late in November, I read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and learned that he's Poe's brother! Haunted is actually described as Poe's "loose companion" to her brother's book, and she even promoted the album at her brother's book tour. After I finished House of Leaves (and loved it), I got curious about the album and sat down to listen to it, expecting something that closely followed the plot of the book, and was more of a fictional exploration than a personal journey.
I was so wrong, and I'm glad I was. Haunted is truly a "loose" companion, only having a couple of songs that actually explicitly reference House of Leaves, and acts more as a thematic companion and mirror to the novel. The album is steeped with themes of grief, family, and exploration (particularly of/across death). It's framed beautifully via the lens of Poe contacting her deceased father via answering machine (while trying to call her mother), interacting and talking with him via the (real!) tapes that he recorded for Poe and her brother when they were children with recordings of a child (a stand-in for Poe's younger self).
The album explores Poe struggling to connect to her father and come to terms with his death, while being unable to truly reach him. She desperately tries in the first half of the album, reminiscing on her past and their relationship while her father's tape audio comes in at the beginning or end of the song. In the song "House of Leaves," Poe's father tells her, "Try now to take the next step," and her mother finally picks up the phone. This connection with her mother gives Poe the strength to directly interact with her father on the closing track "If You Were Here," where she speaks directly to her father and admits that she loves and misses him, and Poe's father laughs with her, saying "I miss you a lot." Poe's adult self ends the song by saying "I love you," and her child self tells her father, "It's okay, you can go now." It's just a beautiful ending that gives the feeling of letting go and moving on, while not entirely hand waving all the previous grief and sorrow. Poe isn't magically healed, but she is able to let go and begin to heal at the end of this album. It's well written and impactful, and I genuinely teared up at the end of this album. I think it made me think a lot about my relationship with my parents and my younger self, which has always been a meaningful topic for me.
Moving past the writing, the songs themselves are really catchy, and span multiple genres. Eerie rock banger "Haunted" is probably the most House of Leaves-y song (funny, when there is literally a song on the album that is titled "House of Leaves") and Poe has a lot of fun playing with her vocal tone to create a proper atmosphere on this track. "Hey Pretty" is a bit more down and dirty, a punk romp, and "Spanish Doll" adds a little bit of (you probably guessed it) Spanish guitar flair amid a haunting melody. "If You Were Here" is pretty bare-bones and raw, fitting for the vulnerable and emotional climax of the album. I have other songs I really like on the album, but these are my favorites.
Overall, I think this is an amazing album. It's the first review I've done for a non-Kpop album, which just speaks to the feelings and thoughts it inspires in me! I find Kpop songs and albums to be a lot easier to write about because 1) they're usually short and 2) I have a lot to criticize, which leads to more interesting reviews (in my opinion). I try not to write reviews where I'm just repeating "it's good" all the time, and it's hard to find something to say about the lyric quality (which is one of my primary areas of expertise, as a writer) when I don't speak Korean (this is also why I tend to end up talking a lot about vocals in Kpop reviews, as it's my second area of expertise).
I feel like the reviews on this site will have you thinking that I only listen to Kpop and nothing else (not that there's anything wrong with that). I don't! I listen to a lot of other genres and have a lot of other albums that are near and dear to my heart. But I also tend to listen to the same artists over and over again (especially older artists), so there's just not anything new and exciting for me to listen to and immediately review. I'm trying to unstick myself from that mindset that something has to be new for me to write about it, and this review was really helpful in that regard. It was easy to write about Haunted as an album because it is an intricately connected narrative album that gave me a lot to talk about. Now, maybe I can shift my focus to casually writing about some more longer albums!