ÒOR is the first solo project by Shari Heck since Cyberbully Mom Club, the Philadelphia-based band she had fronted since 2014, announced its hiatus a month ago. The project’s eponymous album is quintessential bedroom pop: Heck’s lyrics have the fuzzy intimacy of diary entries, her hushed vocals the inflection of secrets whispered at a sleepover.
Heck has said in an interview that writing under the band name of Cyberbully Mom Club served to put a barrier between the audience and herself. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence, then, that ÒOR is a sweeter and more intimate project than much of CBMC’s music, stylistically hearkening back to Heck’s early days of posting solo tracks to Tumblr, songs she would write, record, and edit all in the same night.
But while this album’s narrator is still writing from that same, fundamentally staid place — the bedroom of her home — her lyrics yearn and push outward in every direction. Throughout the self-titled debut, the desire for travel and escape are juxtaposed with the intimacy of home and relationships. This tension is most obvious on “The Sit Down, Stay Down,” where lines like “Every thought is a yearning when I sit down, I can’t stay / I need a wheel to spin, I need some trails to pace ” are countered later in the song by “I would sit under this tree with you and me / that’s what I think about when I stay down.” Heck’s whispered, frantically layered vocals repeat the song’s last two lines over and over at the end, creating a circular outro for its restless narrator akin to pacing in circles. The motif crops up in other songs on the album such as “Feels Nice (A Little More Than Alright),” a love song on which Heck sings “I keep my shoes on cause they make me feel nice… one of us is always leaving.” On the short, second track “Waves,” where Heck’s voice and a bare-bones acoustic riff roll and murmur over themselves, she sings “I saw my baby in the ocean tide, she saw me swimming, I knew it meant something / I can go now if you want me gone, I can leave the state….you won’t have to see me again.” Almost every time that interpersonal intimacy appears, the option of flight is present as well, beckoning the singer away from the scene.
The album has few especially dynamic pieces — largely stripped down, skeletal chords on ukulele and guitar, and a smattering of drums. It can be easy for this kind of music to become monotonous, but unusual song structures keep listeners on their toes (the thirty-seven-second “Waves” repeats the same riff over and over for the whole song, and “Pile Cans Up to Pass Time” is a continuation of an interlude in an earlier track.) The relatively simple music also allows Heck’s gruff, lilting voice to take center stage, and this is where she does most of her experimenting. Heck’s vocals are layered, whispery and then forceful, distant and then intimately close. Most notably, on “What Can Be Taken,” background vocals cut in and out abruptly over the main melody, unintelligIble, creating an anxious ambience to match the song’s subject matter. Again and again, the juxtaposition of the repetitive music with Heck’s ever-changing vocals reflects the narrator’s physical reality: the comfort (and according monotony) of the home and her attempts to break free of the familiar
Heck’s already done the full band albums — much of the music CBMC released in the past year was recorded this way (though each also had Heck solo tracks). Now that she’s shifted to recording alone again, her music is back in the bedroom, more limited instrumentally than it has been in a while and sounding more intimate as a result. Ultimately, the pull of home seems to win out lyrically on ÒOR as well, as she sings halfway through the album: “Everyone I love in walking distance from my home, that’s what I pray for when I start to feel all alone.”
Stream and download Shari Heck's music from her Bandcamp.