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Album Review: Common Holly ‘Playing House’

I have to let you in on a secret: no one knows what the fuck they’re doing when it comes to love! We’re all stumbling blindly forward trying to find/keep someone, appreciating the moments of beauty we come upon without letting the unease of the unknown overwhelm us. Playing House, the debut album from Common Holly (AKA singer-songwriter Brigitte Naggar), is all about the trails and tribulations of attempting to have a grown-up relationship. It’s a folky indie rock album about pulling back that idea of coupledom and exposing it as make-believe.

On Playing House, Naggar explores the dynamic of your partner not treating you well, but being unable to fully see how toxic things have become. On the fragile “Lullaby” Naggart sings “it doesn’t make a difference if you shot me with your bad words /all of that I’ve forgotten, by the end of the day/ I’ll be kissing the ground to know you’re okay.”Playing House by Common HollyThis inability to learn is echoed on “If After All” (a song that’s been in constant rotation in my life) where Naggar sings “I will always forget / any way you spin it”.  Trying to leave such a situation can feel just as baffling as staying there, something covered in “The Desert,” “I went into the desert and I missed him” Naggar sings “I’m the lizard slinking through the valley of regret… the lover forgotten how to love, the sparrow how to fly.”

These turns of phrase sit on pretty standard indie rock/folk beds of acoustic guitar and percussion with electric flourishes here and there. It would be easy to dismiss this as simply pretty on first listen, but there’s a darkness that permeates these songs. The da-da-das on “The Rose” have a haunting menacing quality to them, the kind of tune a horror-movie housewife would hum as she poisons her husband.

Even the warm background instruments that surge forward to support Naggar’s choruses have a prickly unease to them. The strings on “In My Heart” have a wistful air. Both “The Rose” and “If After All” feature some gnarly guitar. Naggar has a similarity feather-light voice as other indie-folk powerhouses like Emily Yacina and Lomelda, but the sheen of studio polish glints on everything, distinguishing Playing House from the fuzzier “bedroom” quality of her peers’ work.

With a smattering of dates coming up, you have plenty of chances to experience her songs yourself. In the meantime, play this album on a chilly day as you stare down your romantic life. On Playing House, Common Holly provides the perfect soundtrack for when things are not as rosy as they initially appear.

Playing House is out now. Catch her live on November 8th at Mercury Lounge, details and tickets here.

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