Make Yourself at Home
Oct. 06, 2019
Before Sofia Verbilla began making music as Harmony Woods, she was dragging friends to gigs around her native Philadelphia, introducing her peers to the city’s DIY scene and pining for a chance to meet her local rock heroes. Inspired by the same bands she moshed to, Verbilla finished writing her first song when she was 16. By 18, she was playing solo sets at the same house show space that members of Modern Baseball once called home. Some of the band even helped her record Harmony Woods’ debut, 2017’s Nothing Special. But there was surely something special about Verbilla; with crystal-clear vocals and evocative lyrics, she was primed to become a fixture of Philly’s underground.
The title of Harmony Woods’ follow-up LP, Make Yourself at Home , is less welcoming than it appears: “So make yourself at home, although you weren’t invited,” Verbilla offers on lead single “Best Laid Plans.” It’s the kind of passive-aggressive comment you might make to someone who’s crashed on your couch a few nights too many, but it’s also an apt summary of a record that examines self-sabotage. Verbilla sings about devoting too much emotional real estate to people who don’t necessarily deserve it, or—in her own meme-formatted words—romanticizing their toxic behaviors. She’s learning to prioritize her own well-being, and Make Yourself at Home unearths the ugly side of that maturation.
Verbilla is an affecting lyricist; her words are candid, unglamorous, and often graphic recollections of trauma. “I can’t feel safe around you/Not when you’re like this,” she laments in the jarring “Misled,” as if channeling pain directly from childhood. “When I was young/My mother’s lover acted the same exact way.” The album also describes the agonizing process of unpicking an abusive relationship, alluding to domestic violence and gaslighting. “You slam the car door shut accidentally/Profusely apologize/You say, ‘That’s not like me,’” she sings on “The City’s Our Song,” with enough hindsight to realize it was indeed characteristic of her subject. “Now all I want is the truth/But you’re frightening me instead/You say, ‘I think you’ve been misled,’” she sings in “Misled.” Verbilla regularly employs her villains’ dialogue, and Make Yourself at Home can feel as much about them as it is about her.
She’s also a fan of recycling lyrics: “Seasons change, people stay the same,” she muses in both “Best Laid Plans” and closer “Halt.” “One day we will die/And only ghosts will be our friends,” she sings in “The City’s Our Song,” only to reiterate the thought on “Ghosts.” On first pass, it can feel lazy—but repeated listens suggest that these are simply Verbilla’s mantras on humanity and mortality. The more hurt she reveals (“Another trauma I’ll have to unpack,” she wails in “Burden”), the more weight her duplicated words bear.
While Verbilla finds strength in this poetry, she’s yet to hit her stride as a musician. “Best Laid Plans” and “The City’s Our Song” boast her boldest, most dynamic choruses, but few moments are equal to them. Compositionally, Make Yourself at Home is rather simple: There are more power chords than intricate riffs, and most of the hooks are a little too banal to stick. It’s easy to wish there was something more complex in the music of Harmony Woods—but after you hear Verbilla’s narratives, it’s also pretty easy to forgive her.
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