As other reviewers have observed, the pandemic still casts a long shadow over life, even as it becomes officially moved to the ‘something we have to live with’ category rather than a widespread disruption to everyday life. There is now, perhaps, the chance to take a moment and reflect on what happened; how we were affected, and how it changed us. Did we take positive steps to improve our lives, or was it like making a dozen New Year Resolutions and seeing them evaporate over time? Do we miss that brief sense of liberation that the lockdown provided for many of us? Have we lost something that’s impossible to define since then?
There is a sense of post-pandemic reflection at the heart of Hollie Kenniff’s new album; the title captures a collective sense of loss that pervades the compositions. If the inspiration sprang from a moment during the pandemic, it’s a phrase that will recur as climate change continues. We All Have Places That We Miss could refer to a favourite spot on a riverbank, now washed away by floodwater or a house lost in a wildfire; or an island soon to be submerged under rising seawater.
For Kenniff, that place is a lakeside lodge in Ontario built by her grandparents and the site of family gatherings each summer. The notes say that the family had to ‘relinquish’ the property during the pandemic and its loss clearly hit Kenniff deeply. Unlike Félicia Atkinson’s 2022 album Image Language, Kenniff doesn’t use the sounds or atmosphere of the building but seeks to evoke memories of moments experienced during the family visits. We All Have Places That We Miss channels this two-fold: capturing Kenniff’s fond recollections of happier days and also, at times, the experience of loss caused by these memories.
There is a sense of familiarity with Places as “Shifting Winds” quietly drifts in, with rich, long notes and a shimmering guitar in the distance before a choir of Kenniffs softly glide across the landscape. It is, on the face of it, a simple mix of elements, but it is supremely affecting. Across the album though, Kenniff expands her sound palette subtly, and several pieces could be associated with elements in the house. The battered, slightly out-of-tune piano that sat in the corner is reborn in “Salient”; the long guitar notes in “No End To The Sea” could echo the wind in the wires. But these are only impressions and not site-specific. Hollie’s husband Keith Kenniff guests on three tracks (under his Goldmund alias), most movingly on “Remembered Words” which is a gorgeous, downbeat way to end the album, carried along by a halting piano figure that seems on the verge of breaking down at any moment.
The beauty of Kenniff’s music is that it is alive with emotion, and we can imprint our own images upon the pieces. Some feelings are universal though it might not be a home or a favourite place we have lost. It might be a person (a friend, a partner, a parent) or a sense of missed time or opportunity. As with her previous album, The Quiet Drift, Kenniff’s work feels akin to having somebody sitting next to you and saying, I understand. And that’s all we need.
We rated The Quiet Drift very highly – it was our second favourite album of 2021 – and it’s possible we felt so strongly about it then because it felt like being in the company of an old friend and that was what we needed at the time. It was a record that captured our imagination and touched our hearts. I don’t know if We All Have Places That We Miss will exert a similar hold on the writers this year yet, but it may well do because a) the world hasn’t noticeably improved since then and b) it’s arguably a stronger album. It may give you warm and fuzzy moments as a listener but somewhere along the line, it will break your heart. (Jeremy Bye)
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