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Album Review: Elizabeth Moen — ‘Wherever You Aren’t’


When Elizabeth Moen and her band rolled into the AudioTree Studios in Chicago in mid-December 2019, she had just wrapped up a whirlwind back-to-back 18 shows in Italy in November following the release of two new singles, “Headgear” and “Ex’s House Party,” originally planned for her fourth album. Already looking forward to that release, Moen excitedly performed them during the AudioTree Live session along with three more new songs.

Moen had all of the preliminary tracks in consideration for the album recorded by early 2020. Then the pandemic made landfall in full force. Faced with canceling her upcoming tour, she paused the work and put out a brilliant collection of songs titled Creature of Habit, along with an additional five more singles.

Moen finally released the album with the title Wherever You Aren’t in November. In an interview with Tony Dehner of Iowa Public Radio, she explained, “I had this dream of a label, a booking agent, a manager. I kept just waiting and waiting. But then I was like, ‘Hold on!’ I have an amazing, super-supportive fan base, who have already donated to the record, who wanted to hear it. So I decided to just put it out myself! That’s what I’ve always done.”

In the same interview, she described the new, bigger sound of this record. “I kind of leveled up, I think,” which is an understatement. The early views did not prepare us for the full monty of this album.

At its core, Wherever You Aren’t is a continuation of Moen’s sweeping vocal acrobatics and the vintage tone of her trusty 1968 Gibson ES-340. She soars to heights of passion and dives to the depths of darkness — often in the same song. On “Where’s My Bike” she confesses, “I’m sick of singing songs about my exes/Should join somebody else’s band/Play songs about their life instead of mine/Be a part of a very marketable brand/Or I could keep wallowing all afternoon/Only think about my own problems.” The dry self-deprecating humor in “Where’s My Bike” encompasses her wit and frankness so completely that this could become her signature song.

Repeated listens reveal the attention to detail that elevates this album to her best so far. “Synthetic Fabrics,” a song that touches on the thoughts that keep her up at night, soars. At the bridge of the song, when she attempts to “bore herself to sleep,” her brain decides otherwise, plaguing her with what-if scenarios. The use of a Psycho-esque string in the mix helps portray the panic she feels.

Another excellent moment is the dramatic turn in “Emotionally Available.” The song opens as a beautiful breezy Latin soul number, adorned with a flute. The chorus swells like an approaching storm, with bombastic horns as she demands that her lover admit to her that they are not emotionally available or capable of new love. Her vocals ride this weather front — a dark, menacing monotonic turn from the pretty birdsong of the verses. This is a fascinating venture into new song territory for Moen.

Moen can be forgiven for holding Wherever You Aren’t as her offering to a label. It’s a fully realized calling card of soulful vérité examination of the day to day. Her stop-and-ponder thoughts are whipped up to a creamy, dreamy soul-pop confection, the center of which is not always as sweet as it appears. But, then, the best treats are often layered.

Elizabeth Moen performs at her album release party at Gabe’s on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. — Sid Peterson/Little Village

This article was originally published in Little Village’s December 2022 issues.


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