Rainbows in the Dark: Kathryn Mohr — “Holly”

I stake much of my reputation on being someone who adores lo-fi indie music, in case you hadn’t picked up on the number of times I mention The Mountain Goats on a podcast dedicated to music that is decidedly unlike The Mountain Goats. I am a person who loves simple, uncomplicated music that packs a lot of heart, and there is something about the sound of fuzzy, blown out instruments that works with my ears and brain very nicely. It is through this lens that I come to Holly, the new EP by San Jose based experimental artist Kathryn Mohr, which presents a kaleidoscope view of the world through synthesizer, guitar, and vocals.

Holly is my first introduction to the music of Kathryn Mohr, but may also be the first time many people hear this name. This EP is only her second release, 2020’s self-released synthesizer-based As If being its only predecessor. Thankfully, Holly is seeing a wider release on venerable purveyor of all things outsider art The Flenser, owing to the connection with Midwife’s Madeline Johnston, who produced Holly. Recorded in rural New Mexico, the desert environment in which these songs were committed to tape influenced their shape as much as the Bay Area in which they were conceived; Mohr’s art draws inspiration from lost objects washing up on California beaches, the warping of memory, and how trauma shapes our view of the world around us, and the desert environment, according to Mohr herself, quieted her thoughts and allowed her to gain perspective necessary to hone the intent of the songs. The result is something expansive in all meanings, moving seamlessly from synthesizer-based ambient to washed-out electric guitar ballads to field recordings of the New Mexico desert that are connected by their sense of vastness and the ephemeral.

When I listen to Holly, I tend to think about dreams. There is much that feels connected to the concept of dreaming here; opener “___(a)” recalls the musical washes that often precede dream sequences in movies and television, the title track features the line ‘don’t look down, man, it’s a long way’ which reminds me of the panicked sensation of falling from a height in a dream, and the whole album is treated with a fuzzy wash that places it distinctly behind a veil from our world. Like the Sandman of lore, Holly feels like one is stepping into a series of vignettes of the dreams of others, from the romantic intonation of “Stranger” to the unsettling drone of closer “Nin Jiom,” unique and treasured views of an individual’s world not unlike the found objects that inspired their creator.

This is an album I’ve been coming back to a lot since “Stranger” was released as the first single. I immediately knew this was going to be something special, and true to my intuition, Holly is an album that is gripping, compelling, and intriguing while still maintaining a minimalism and sparseness that makes its elements shine all the more. These songs have room to breathe, and in doing so become alive in your ears.

Holly is available now digitally and on cassette tape via The Flenser. For more information on Kathryn Mohr, follow her on Instagram.

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