Album Review: Elizabeth Moen — ‘Creature of Habit’ EP

Liz Moen’s origin story, as relayed to me by Luke Tweedy of Flat Black Studios, begins before she recorded a single note. He said she decided to record an album of her own songs, and in short order she was at Flat Black with a band she had just formed. She came to that debut project with a load of raw talent and a uniquely expressive voice.

In the last four years, she’s gone places with her music, literally and figuratively, including tours of Ireland and Italy and three full albums. The COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to her touring schedule, only delaying what seems inevitable: a global audience for her music. She holds her own in the company of any contemporary singer/songwriter — Phoebe Bridgers, FKA Twigs, Billie Eilish.

Creature Of Habit, out Dec. 11, is in part the product of lockdown isolation, which pushed her in different musical directions from her usual rootsy pop music. On the title track her songwriting is wedded to the bedroom electronica production of Avery Mossman. The EP ends with a solo guitar and voice version that’s just as compelling and feels very much of the current moment.

The electronic version puts one in mind of a song by Lana Del Rey or Mitski: a contemporary production. The closer feels like a performance you might have seen her give down at The Mill. It’s the version sung to an audience, where the electronic take is personal and introspective, her voice floating against sparse thump-and-click drum sounds and sine wave bass.

“Eating Chips” brings in Mossman’s synth impersonating a Theremin, the polar opposite of the rootsy sound one expects from Moen. But her bluesy drawl is accentuated by a hint of distortion, grounding the uncanny electronic wail.

“It’ll Get Tired Too” is just nylon-string guitar and Moen’s vocals in duet with Penny Peach. It highlights what makes her remarkable: the way her voice swoops, coos and growls, sometimes in a single line. “Pain is here, it always is; showed up as soon as life did / Let it pick a song to play, it’ll get tired too and go away.” It’s a prayer of endurance, finding ways to outlast life’s fears and suffering.

“Who Wants Takeout” returns to a full band sound, but it is anything but slick. When she sings at the bottom of her vocal range she has a nasal, guttural sound. It’s her “I mean business” voice. Then she modulates seamlessly to a breathy, delicate tone and ends up pure and sweet in the upper register.

Moen is both a throwback to ’60s folk-pop and very much in the moment. One welcome old-timey idea is that Creature Of Habit works as something to hear from beginning to end. The songs are varied in production and mood but all of a piece. Just as the blues is music about feeling bad that makes you feel good, Moen’s songs of lonely isolation make the listener feel less alone.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 289.

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