Helena Hallberg follows her heart and speaks her mind on ‘Epithet’

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Recommended Tracks: “Surprisingly Disco,” “Epithet,” “Your Side of the Pillow”
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What does it mean to really search for a better life? Is it questioning the acts of others? Is it challenging norms and expectations? Should you give into your fears and doubts, or should you deny your feelings? It’s never a straight shot to get where you want to go, never a smooth ride. You will have to overcome obstacles, face your fears, and ask yourself questions that you probably never thought you would ask. In the end, you can find yourself in the midst of where you always wanted to be, ready to share the lessons you learned or experiences you had along the way. On Epithet, the debut album from Helena Hallberg, the folk pop artist sheds light on the thoughts and observations that occurred in pursuit of her own road to something greater, giving listeners a fresh outlook on the human condition.

Throughout Epithet, Helena brings us into her past. On “From the Outside,” she tells us what it was like to leave her life in Sweden behind to move to the US. She incorporates her love of American folk music with the comfort of her home in Sweden on this track, as we hear a stripped back production set against the whispering sounds of a forest in Mullsjö, where this was recorded. Vulnerably, Helena sings, “And when they said, ‘Live or die’ / I said, ‘Neither’ / You said, ‘Nowhere fast’ / I say, ‘Someday soon’” and “I’m not running / I’m finding my stride / I know I’ll see the trees of the forest / From the outside,” her willingness to try and take chances getting the best of her. We also hear about how much she has grown on the spunky “Surprisingly Disco.” The synth, strings, piano, and rhythm guitar will move you on this disco-infused folk pop track, taking you to a place where you can celebrate all night long. I can imagine a smile on her face and a pep in her step as she sings, “Turns out I’m surprisingly disco / And I wanna let you know / That it’s all working out right / And that I’m dancing in the kitchen all night,” proud of where she is today. She reminisces on her younger self in other lines like, “Thank God I’m not 22 anymore / Obsessing hours on end / Did you ever get through to that number you were dialin’?” relieved that this messy phase of her life is over for good.

Helena lets us into her life even further on revelatory songs like “Aesthetics of Sorrow” and “Your Side of the Pillow,” exposing her more private thoughts. On “Aesthetics of Sorrow,” she takes a moment to process the importance of bad days in her life. Her voice is clear and pure as she observes, “And you do, you try the best that you can / To smile real good for the camera man / But there’s something about those melancholy ways / Those sorrow days,” knowing that there is value in trying times. It’s lonely but warm, accentuating the positive and negative of giving into these gloomy feelings. With “Your Side of the Pillow,” Helena puts her wavering emotions at ease. There is a golden aura to the song, brought on by the light horns and loving strings. She brings out the comfort she has when she is with her certain special someone, totally content when in that person’s presence. She admits, “Then we’ll have it all; proverbial / We’ll be hot and whole; in tune and all / And then we’ll fall in love / Exactly what we’re looking for,” ready to take in whatever the relationship brings her.

From these songs, we can tell that Helena is all about following her heart and sharing what’s on her mind. She will speak up if she needs to, and she takes the opportunity to do with several tracks on this album. The title track is a feminist anthem, intended to inspire the women who have been subjected to catcalling to rise above. Helena’s tone stays elegant against the folk rock production, but her words sting. She sings, “All at once, I’m reduced to an epithet / Made to feel like this is what I get / Like I’m putting on a show,” but she takes her power back in other lines like, “A patriarchal fantasy has come to take its place / I turn around and tell him to shut up for his own sake” and “It’s fine, I’m fine / These names, they fade in time / But I don’t think I can wait for that moment to arrive.” On tracks like “Heaven and Hell” and “Mastermind,” Helena confronts the dangers of listening to too many opinions and beliefs. The icy verses and fiery choruses work together on “Heaven and Hell” to not only highlight these two distinct places, but to also draw attention to the disagreements and arguments that arise when discussions on faith get out of hand. Similarly, “Mastermind” has its own contrasts throughout, the open yet vulnerable soundscapes accentuating the seemingly “helpful” advice that she references and the ways that these words can become twisted in the eyes of those who don’t know better.

There’s no better way to close out Women’s History Month than with Epithet. The album is equal parts bold, determined, outspoken, and introspective, qualities that Helena uses to her advantage. Not only do the lyrics contain these characteristics, but the music does as well, with Helena’s all-female production team incorporating the range and dynamics of American folk music into each track. While it is a sharp listen for women, Epithet is also applicable to anyone on the verge of taking a different path in life or curious to see situations in a new way. If there’s one main message from the album, it’s to not be defined by one word, one label.

You can listen to Epithet on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.

Keep up with Helena Hallberg: Facebook // Instagram // TikTok // YouTube // Website

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