Alive through Sound: “Harvard/Oregon” by Briston Maroney

By: JoAnn Snavely

This past Friday, 10/14/2022, Briston Maroney released two brand new songs; “Harvard” and “Oregon.” In the week leading up to its release, the Nashville-based musician did a series of early listening events in collaboration with local radio stations.

Maroney had been teasing the songs during his recent All Aboard Tour, which I did a review on in a previous article in the ‘Alive Through Sound’ series. I was able to hear “Oregon” live before its release, and as someone unassuming as to what the song was, I was absolutely amazed, but much like most things that occurred that night,my post-concert depression has absolutely fogged the memory behind the song, and of course, I didn’t record ANY of it! So you can bet your bottom dollar I was absolutely thrilled at the announcement of its release, and I was even more thrilled when Maroney leaked that it would be a dual-release as he was dropping “Harvard” that same day. 

Maroney is signed by Canvasback Records, who have musicians like Alt-J, Michelle, Del Water Gap, and have had musicians like Manchester Orchestra and Grouplove on their team in the past. 

Canvasback is a smaller label that knows how to pick talent. Nowadays, that’s hard to find. With more prominent labels like Columbia, RCA, and Atlantic records boasting hundreds if not thousands of today’s up-and-coming musicians, smaller labels are losing musicians to these more prominent labels, and it’s a shame because smaller, independent labels are what is at the roots of the indie genre. This concept is eerily similar to the small business vs. big business debate, and the moral of both stories is to SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESS AND MUSIC LABELS.

Briston Maroney is a Nashville-based musician who got his start as many of America’s favorite artists have–American Idol. He made it very far into American Idol until he wasn’t selected during Rush Week, furthermore eliminating him.

His folksy sound is able to capture an audience with prominent southern roots, and the idiosyncratic feature in his sound is his utilization of indie rock. With early influences from hailed musicians like Bob Dylan and John Prine, and more current indie influences from musicians like Wallows and Kacey Musgraves, he perfectly marries two genres in a way that transcends beyond any box the industry could put him into. 

His smooth vocalism and use of guitar in his music set him apart from most other indie musicians in the scene today. That distinctive sound extended into his newest releases in both its lyricism and sound.

Maroney created these tracks with the help of Jake Luppen (also known as lupin) with production, Knathan Knox with drums, and Sam Calvaro. Together, this dream team created two of my favorite singles of 2022.

“Oregon”

“Oregon” was the first of the two releases; Maroney had been teasing it as early as April of this past year when he posted a TikTok on 04/20/2022 with an acoustic version of the song. He went on to tease it while on tour before its release. The moment I pressed play on  “Oregon,” I got goosebumps as it had engrossing elements, and I admired the story it told even more. Maroney prefaced the release of the two singles by stating that these songs were written years ago, which is an interesting factor since their elements differ a tad from his previous releases like “June” and “Caroline.” However, it still has a sound you can find in his songs like “Rollercoaster” or “Bottle Rocket” from his Sunflower album. Although it isn’t the traditional Briston Maroney “sound,” I absolutely adore this song and every little detail between the lines of its lyrics. With this, it’s safe to say that its lyricism stands out to me the most. It opens with upbeat indie-rock elements that are reminiscent of the Strokes or Declan Mckenna paired with the lyrics:

“Where the hell did your head go, babe?

Is it back in Portland where you learned to be a soldier’s way?

At the end of a real long day

All you want is to go home, light a smoke and find some piece of mind.”

The song follows ‘Maisie,’ and it’s important to note that it’s unclear whether this person is a real person or not because Maroney has a past of using names in songs, with this dual-release following two people. Still, regardless, that’s not super important to the actual storyline of the song.

Maroney– or the narrator tells the story of their unrequited love with Maisie. The narrator loves Maisie, and this is their confession of their love for her. Unfortunately, ‘Maisie’ seems unhappy with being trapped in her small town, which is a feeling many teenagers can relate to (I know I can). They wonder if their love could change their feelings whilst acknowledging Maisie’s urge to leave and even encouraging it. We see this in the lyrics;

“But don’t let this town get you down

Grown so cold

‘Cause you are bound to come around

This I know, oh-oh, oh-oh”

“Maisie

If you knew how crazy I was for you

Surely, you would let me in

There is hope inside it

You just have to find it

Then your life, it will begin”

Although these lyrics on wanting to escape from some god-awful town may seem like highly dark and solemn sentiments, Maroney shares the flip side of the story he’s telling:THERE IS HOPE. The outro solidifies this idea as the lyric,“There is hope, inside of it” is repeated over and over again. Those lyrics then act as a gleaming reminder for those who want to escape or even those who are complacent, that regardless of the fears that occupy your every waking moment, there is hope, there is hope inside of this, it’ll all be ok–even if we have to freak out on the interstate from time to time (pun intended). 

These lyrics are highly reminiscent of the lyrics from the song “Caroline,” and also the entirety of the project that the song “Caroline” is featured on; the Indianna EP with the lines like;

“’Cause she’s got some dreams in her heart

She just needs somewhere to start”

Another feature of this song that I absolutely treasure is its sound. Initially, the guitar is pretty standard for Maroney and is reminiscent of his Indianna EP. Still, once we get to the chorus, we hear an additional guitar that adds a new variable to its sound. That variable raises hairs and gives me chills in a way that only his song “Fools Gold” has done for me. The rhythm guitar helps set this up. It is a standard chord layout initially until an additional guitar chimes in during the chorus. 

These factors add to this slight grunginess to its sound, paired with his typical folksy vocals and guitar to create this new concept that seems to be the future of Briston Maroney’s sound.

“Harvard”

“Harvard” was a surprise release and wasn’t announced initially with “Oregon.” This song’s newfound 90s indie-rock sound had me racking my brain for comparisons to make in regards to Maroney’s discography– the comparison that stuck out the most to me was “Under My Skin” from his 2018 Carnival EP and his 2020 project Miracle.

In preparation/writing of this review, I listened to both songs many, many times to give the best evaluation possible. For perspective, I’ve listened to “Oregon” 31 times since it came out (it is 2:57 pm on its release day and I am unapologetic., very single time I listen to this song, I fell more deeply in love with it. Maroney took that newfound grunginess that was aforementioned in the “Oregon” breakdown and he elevated it.

I absolutely adore this song and its sound. Its tempo is enjoyable, and I think that is one of the features I want to highlight. Additionally, I want to talk about its vocalism. Maroney is naturally gifted in terms of his voice. His vocalism is very weathered, which adds to its beauty. Alongside his vocalism– his use of the guitar as an instrument stands out to me the most. Obviously, guitar is one of the most frequently used instruments in the industry (specifically the genres he works within). So it isn’t a ground-breaking concept as far as the use of the instrument, but the way he does it is one of my favorite things. Aside from lyricism, I pay close attention to the electric guitar and its use. It’s a weird habit I picked up when I began playing guitar. This is what made the guitar stick out to me. After hearing the song for the first time, I scoured the internet to find the song chords because I wanted to learn them. I think it’s such an interesting chord progression and it doesn’t follow your typical guitar setup. It frequently switches between A, E, D, and a few more chords. Instead of having a traditional guitar solo that we often see in the genre, it developed into this unique sound that I was immediately fond of. This song’s lyricism stood out to me as well.

This song follows ‘Evelyn,’ and similarly to “Oregon,” we don’t know the origins of Evelyn, and we don’t know if she is a real person or not. Continually, in a similar vein,it’s not that important to the song or its development. 

This song recalls a relationship they feel is failing, and they’re just unsure of why. They felt so perfectly in love, but it seems they’ve become lost in translation. The narrator is trying to figure out where they lack and spending many sleepless nights racking their brain to ask Evelyn:

“Won’t you tell me what it is

Won’t you please, just tell me what it is

I know that there’s a window to your heart that I’m not seein’ through

Just gotta find my way in

Tell it to me straight, you know I would appreciate

Often in the way of all the things we wanna say”

Analyzing these lyrics reminds me” vaguely of the song “Worlds Apart” by Wallows, although “Worlds Apart” has a more melancholic sound than “Harvard”, they tell the same story: one about a relationship needing communication. Because of this, I think this song is very easily transferable to many situations and we can look at it from many perspectives. 

Whether from the perspective of a failing relationship, friendship, or even family members you’ve lost contact with, losing touch is terrifying, and although this song doesn’t really console those fears, sometimes you need to associate those feelings with words in order to cope better, and this song does just that. 

This song’s bright exterior helps overcoat the lyricism that feels like a shot to the chest, and it composes nothing short of a masterpiece. These singles show a bright future for Maroney and the future he’s cultivating.

What’s Next for Briston Maroney

Briston Maroney released the deluxe version of his 2021 album Sunflower this past April and has since then been releasing singles. His first single post-album was “Paradise,” which was released in July of 2022; this song has since made it into his top 5 most streamed songs of all time as far as popularity goes. These two additional songs raise the question of whether or not a new project will be released soon. 

Although it’s hard to speculate– he seems to be leaving the folksiness of his original sound in his projects like Indiana and Sunflower and tapping into an indie rock tone that features more electric elements in its sound than he has in the past, which is a really exciting path, and it is something he is showing mastery in.

 Although a new project featuring these three songs isn’t imminent, one can hope, and I will be hoping until his next musical release is announced.

Aside from musical releases, Maroney has been busy touring; he just recently wrapped up his All Aboard Tour and is now taking the music festival world by storm. His Paradise festival is taking place 11/03-11/04/2022 in Nashville, featuring musicians like Briston Maroney, The Greeting Committee, Michelle, and Indigo De Souza, making it an event you don’t want to miss! 

‘Alive through Sound’ Series

This is the fourth installment of the ‘Alive through Sound’ series at the herald. Check out the last article in the series ‘Alive through Sound: COIN and Miloe (Hurricane Ian Edition)’ where I talk about not only attending a concert during a hurricane, but attending a COIN concert during a hurricane. Check out Briston Maroney’s latest songs until the next article in the series!

Links:

Harvard/Oregon on Spotify

Harvard/Oregon on Apple Music

Introduction to Briston Maroney Playlist

Briston Maroney Official Website

“Oregon” Genius Lyrics

“Harvard” Genius Lyrics

“Oregon” Guitar Chords

“Harvard” Guitar Chords

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