I’ve never had a problem with spring, myself. Summer was always the season for which I held conflicting feelings. On the one hand, it meant time off of school, vacations and not having to do anything I didn’t want to. On the other, it meant being really, really hot. And when it heats up, particularly in a desert-like climate, you don’t feel like doing much of anything. It’s enough to give you reverse seasonal affective disorder, leaving you elated in rainy weather for not having your energy sucked out by Helios. But when Jolie Holland suggests that springtime can kill you, she’s speaking from the perspective of the heartbroken, and how loneliness in a season of growth, life and rebirth can be a bit of a downer.
In the opening lines “I’m flirting with the birds/I’m talking to the weeds,” the mood is set in opener “Crush in the Ghetto.” Atop a breezy folk rock backing, Holland invites us into her lonesome, lustful world, with clever little observations like “the ants are crawling over my pants as if to say/they know where the honey is” coloring the song with added character. It’s the title track, however, that offers the strongest imagery on this theme of spring: “Roses are all blooming/lilacs all aglow/honeysuckle vine shine shine/oh, get out of your house.”
On one of the best, and catchiest tracks, “Moonshiner,” Holland echoes the title track’s sentiment by singing “the springtime almost killed me/with the hot blood in my veins.” This song is a little more seedy, however, with themes of bathtub gin possibly working double time as a metaphor for sex: “pass it here one more time/you got that good hard stuff that always gets me high.” Still, most of the songs here, in spite of the green imagery, feel more like the soundtrack to a hot summer night in the south. As always, Holland favors old-timey arrangements and melodies, taking cues from jazz, folk and blues, much like her previous album Escondida.
What does separate Springtime Can Kill You from Escondida, however, is its more subdued nature. While the lyrical themes seem more tightly knit, the music isn’t nearly as vibrant or catchy as Escondida, but Holland’s songwriting still produces a dozen splendid tracks, each one more lovely with repeated listens, as fragile as any of the song’s protagonists hearts. And even if spring takes its toll, there are three more seasons in which the gifted Bay Area songwriter can recover.
Andrew Bird – The Mysterious Production of Eggs
Nora O’Connor – Til the Dawn
The Be Good Tanyas – Chinatown
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.