“I’m stuck to the bed with brain zaps in my head,” singer-songwriter Joanna Sternberg intones on the opening track of their debut album, Then I Try Some More. Playing by themself on piano, “This Is Not Who I Want To Be” narrates a brutally difficult period in the 27 year-old singer’s life. “That song is about when I was going through heroin withdrawal and I should’ve been in a hospital, but I did it in my room and I literally just wrote that song as it was happening to me,” they’ve said of the song.
Then I Try Some More is a gorgeous bedroom lo-fi rendering of mid-century blues, jazz, and pop (Sternberg is a huge Scott Joplin fan) that carves out a middle ground between Daniel Johnson and Randy Newman; the piano introduction to “Nothing Makes My Heart Sing” would’ve sounded at home on the latter’s 1972 masterwork Sail Away.
All of this is to say that Sternberg is a relentlessly studious songwriter with a sharp sense of how to use phrasing to advance the song they’re singing. On “this Is Not Who I Want To Be,” they do just that, deploying meter and melody to do much of the narrative work.
“Rain pouring down/my head pounds from/the sound,” they sing in the song’s first line, with a loping piano melody set to tip-tap vocal phrasing that mirrors the relentlessness of both the pounding rain on their roof and the unendurable pain of a dope withdrawal.
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“This Is Not Who I Want To Be” is a stunning exercise in artful subtlety, the type of song that sounds like it’s always existed: “It just kept playing in my head,” Sternberg said of the experience of writing the song in real-time, “but I didn’t realize it hadn’t been written already.”