Album Review: Greenlake — ‘Best Years’

On the inaugural World Art Day on April 15 this year, UNESCO tweeted, “In times of crisis, we need culture to make us resilient, give us hope, remind us that we are not alone.” Through the bad series of events in 2020, artists and art have been there to shine a light to help us collectively move through.

Cedar Rapids musician Haley Miller, who performs under the name Greenlake, was moved to release her debut EP Best Years in an effort to give back by supporting the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd.

“I waited a long while to release this EP,” Miller said in an email, “due to fear of people hating it/constantly just waiting for the perfect time. Once the protests in Minneapolis started and the Minnesota Freedom Fund started going around I knew I wanted to do something to be able to donate.”

Miller is donating everything she makes from sales of the EP to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

The five songs that make up Best Years were not written with the intent of making an album, but found their genesis in coping with the struggles of depression. Recorded and mastered by Gabe Reasoner, the songs exist in a stark contrast between personal, often hidden pain and a clawing desire to burst out for people to hear.

If Miller was conflicted in releasing this, what was captured to tape is bold and anthemic. “One day I’m going to wake up, and be glad that I did. But until that day comes, you’ll find me hidden in my sheets,” she sings in “Depression Memes.”

Most of the songs are structured primarily with voice and acoustic guitar — the way she performs live. The guitar is pulsing and rhythmic with little ornamentation, existing merely to frame her voice. Beautiful and naturally expressive with distinctively round vowels, her voice — when pushed for emphasis — breaks, and the listener hangs for every aching moment.

She breaks the mold a bit at the halfway point of the record in “Season,” which is a recitation over echoey, chiming electric guitar from the perspective of a tree dreading winter—a clever analog to her own seasonal affective disorder. “The hardest part about being a tree is not being able to see my worth when I’ve been stripped of my favorite parts of myself / When the bird leaves her nest for the winter, and the chipmunks start to hibernate, I begin to feel isolated / left with nothing but the snow and my thoughts.”

If there is an optimistic ray of light that shines here, it’s the actual joy Miller seems to have wrapped up in the desire to perform the songs. At the end of “Season,” she offers, “But, just when I feel like giving up, the sun comes out, the snow melts, the grass grows and I begin to sprout.”

Art helps in healing not just the audience but also the artist. Greenlake transformed a very personal suffering into a very public healing through Best Years. The hope and resiliency remind us that we are not alone.

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