It’s no secret that we’re big fans of New Jersey around here, so naturally we rushed to get our hands on the newest release from the four-piece Hodera, who hail from Butler, New Jersey. Hodera has been known to blend together everything from country to emo to roots rock – especially on earlier releases like United by Birdcalls and First Things First.
But on Dear Friend, the band is leaning more than ever into an alt-Americana sound. The album kicks off with twinkling twangs on “Waiting,” a full-bodied song that immediately introduces the album’s core themes about reconciling with the past and pushing forward. There’s always been an alt-country folksiness to Hodera’s songwriting, but it feels even stronger here with reflective lines like, “Pictures, they’re just ghosts / ‘cause I steal them from death now / and I hang them on the house to haunt the house” and songs directly addressing past friends and lovers.
That’s not to say that all emo or punk influences are completely gone. It’s still apparent on tracks like “Romanic Depressive,” where sparse chugging guitar builds into a bridge of borderline hardcore screams of “Every time it ends the same way!” There’s an undercurrent of rage on songs like “Mason Dixon,” too, that have a punkier undercurrent to them.
Dear Friend often hits one of my favorite emotional notes – horribly depressed yet defiantly optimistic. Much of the album is about crippling depression, addiction, and general emotional distress, but it saves space for hope and reconciliation. The album is largely about continuing to live the life you want to live, even if your mental health relentlessly tries to keep you from doing so. Their third single “Trying,” is a perfect example, a song about wrestling your life back from the clutches of mental illness. “If suicide is how I’m supposed to die, well, then I better get to living faster,” sings lead singer Matt Smith.
Later, on “Little Falls,” Smith sings about the under-discussed pain of being the only one edged out of your hometown childhood friend group. “They are strangers now and I somehow just grin / While my guts churn in my stomach thinking ’bout what could have been,” he sings, before switching gears and repeating, “I’m still around” as the instrumentals ramp up. The track then becomes more about convincing himself (and others) that just because some people may have forsaken you, it doesn’t mean you’re not making marks on anyone else’s lives.
But it’s on the comparatively bleaker final tracks where Hodera really shines. One of the fullest sounding songs is the penultimate “Mason Dixon,” a rousing track with caustic instrumental surges and overlaid vocal tracks that become almost claustrophobic with noise. It then immediately shifts to the much sparser “Mother’s Wine” with its quietly tender first lines: “You woke your drunk mother up / she calls you by her brother’s name / who died when she was eighteen…”
The track is without a doubt the rawest on the album. It’s about the death of their bassist’s mother, actually sampling the very last voicemail she ever left him. And it hurts. By the time I write this review, I’ve listened to this song (and the whole album) multiple times and I still tear up at the gentle repetition of “If you were living, you were suffering.” It’s incredibly evocative, and there’s something clarifying in the cathartic crescendo of the ending.
Support Dear Friend on Bandcamp and check out its physical releases over on Lonely Ghost Records. You can follow Hodera over on Twitter and Instagram.