Babehoven, “Nastavi, Calliope”
A person’s grief is simultaneously universal and unique. As we’ve all learned recently, people can share a tragedy, needing each other to emerge, but no one’s loss is exactly the same. On Nastavi, Calliope, the new EP from Hudson, NY-based Babehoven, songwriter Maya Bon welcomes that dichotomy as she tries to work her way through what she describes as a “cascade of losses.”
Like most of Bon’s work, Nastavi is quite intimate, drawing heavily from personal experience. Here, she’s motivated by the passing of Calliope, the family dog who graces the album’s cover in miniature, and Bon’s reunion with her father during a trip to his native Croatia, where he lives, after a 16-year separation. Bon has begun creating her own ties to the country by studying the language and Balkan music (“nastavi” is Croatian for “keep going”). The loss of a pet is often one of the first deaths we cope with, and the EP’s title grants a beloved family member both permission to leave as well as eternal life. It’s a thank-you for teaching a difficult lesson and preparing us for the inevitable.
The album’s seven songs run the gamut in terms of both music and subject matter, mirroring a day in the life of someone who’s grieving, when moods and feelings change in an instant. The album opens with Bon singing alone over anemic guitar chords and a mechanical drumbeat on “Bad Week”: “It’s been a bad week for so many weeks now.” The song becomes a battle cry, a push through the impossible: “I don’t have the energy / I don’t have the stamina to keep on fighting / but I keep on fighting… You were both a father and a brother to me / You were my whole family.” There are moments where Bon seems to embrace the existential unknown, like “Annie’s Shoes,” which couples a dance beat with the line, “When I sit and think about it, I wonder why I’m here at all.” Its accompanying stop-motion music video by Phoebe Hart explodes with vibrant colors and the natural world. If not a celebration, it’s at least an embrace of the unavoidable cycle of life and death.
Musically, Nastavi, Calliope is a departure from the previous Babehoven EP, Yellow has a pretty good reputation, which came out in January. A natural precursor to Calliope, it begins to explore some of the losses Bon tackles on the new record. Where Yellow found Bon in a total haze, musically and lyrically, her presence on Calliope is more commanding, and much of its music is quite lively, with Bon and partner Ryan Albert expanding Babehoven’s musical arsenal with the use of MIDI. Yellow felt like an immediately therapeutic reaction (and make no mistake, it is excellent, as Bon’s work always is), but Calliope comes from someone who’s had to make room for grief and has become used to it as a presence in her life, as you do with a roommate who never washes the dishes or closes the kitchen cabinets. In Bon’s hands, it all becomes something beautiful.