Melancholy and uplifting
Joanna Sternberg’s latest album—Then I Try Some More—is certainly unusual. It is composed of nine songs (though on the rapport that you don’t have to call them songs) which total 25 minutes of music (though “they do not like using the word music to describe music”) and creates an engaging work of art (though they don’t like using the word “to describe art” either). So the best way to approach the album is to let go of your expectations. Let Joanna explain why they reject so many conventions.
Sternberg is the sole singer, musician and songwriter on Then I Try Some More and this album couldn’t be any other way. Sternberg speaks from the heart. The album feels raw and unpolished in its emotion. The opening track is entitled “This Is Not Who I want to Be.” The song is about wanting to change but feeling like you cant and Sternberg does not restrain the pain they feel. “Lord knows I try I’m trying hard to change/ I wish I knew why I always stay the same.” The song is so personal, yet the coldness of the piano—the only instrument on the track—has the listener feel the chill of Sternberg’s emotions.
Many of the songs are limited to Sternberg’s voice accompanied by their playing either guitar or piano. You might expect it makes the album sound thin or boring, but not so with Sternberg. It lends the album a sense of loneliness that Sternberg accentuates with their lyrics, which often deal with themes of loneliness and isolation. “Don’t you ever feel like no one really knows you?/ Don’t you ever feel like no one ever will?” Sternberg sings on “Don’t You Ever.” It is one of the saddest songs on the album as they sing about how “most of [their] dreams have died.” Even as the entire song proceeds in that manner, Sternberg finds hope. They end the song by inverting the refrain to “Don’t you dare feel that you are alone.”
In none of the songs does Sternberg mope. The album is not overall upbeat, but Sternberg elegantly channels their feelings into the songs to create something for listeners to identify with, not something for them to feel sorry over. “Pimba” is the first-person story of a penguin who does not apologize for who he is. “My name is Pimba I’m the littlest penguin,” Sternberg sings. Of all the penguins, Pimba is “sometimes ignored,” and he gets “so chilly in the freezing cold snow.” Despite Pimba’s shortcomings, Sternberg sings “But I know what I know what I know.” The refrain “I am Pimba repeats throughout the song, reminding us that even though Pimba seems meek, Pimba will not succumb to self-doubt. It is the sort of reminder lots of people can identify with.
Then I Try Some More is not a cheery album, but Sternberg manages to infuse their sorrowful ballads with just a touch of whimsy. Their sound and outlook are just a little quirky in a way that makes the songs both relatable and uplifting. As downcast as Sternberg seems on the album, at least they maintain their own style, sound and humor.