Since starting Babehoven in Portland, Oregon in 2017, Maya Bon has shown herself to be a gifted heart-on-sleeve songwriter, using music to peel back the layers of her own experiences—sometimes sad, sometimes surreal, always vividly rendered—to reveal universal emotional truths hidden in the most intimately personal of details.
On Babehoven’s new EP, Sunk, Bon seeks to answer a seemingly simple yet ultimately life changing question: what would happen if, rather than constantly fighting against the immovable tides of unfixable things—broken relationships, a fractured society, a future that erodes daily in the face of climate change—she gave herself permission to stop struggling altogether. What beauty might life attain if the choice to give up—to become “sunk”—was reframed as an act of self-care rather than one of defeat?
“Sinking can be a form of self acceptance, allowing oneself to let go of the narrative that we have to keep treading water in order to succeed—there are ways to move on from the parts of ourselves and our lives that feel unmanageably difficult and hopeless,” says Bon of the EP’s title.
Sonically, Sunk heralds a new approach for Babehoven. 2020’s Nastavi, Calliope, was a lush work of sonic exploration resulting in part from Bon and collaborator Ryan Albert getting their hands on a MIDI keyboard a friend had left behind in Philadelphia, where they were living at the time, while the naturalistic indie rock of Sunk was inspired by the economical sound of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or. Bon and Ryan Albert would listen to the record while lying on the floor of the southern Vermont apartment where they were quarantined in the early days of 2020, “fine tuning our ears and finding inspiration in the exceptional songwriting and recording quality,” says Bon. Sunk has a lean and unfussy sound centered around roughly strummed guitar and Bon’s richly emotive vocals—not too perfect, but not overly lo-fi either.
The unadorned nature of the recordings highlights Bon’s ability to write songs that weave narratives out of overlapping perspectives, both zoomed-in and wide-lensed at the same time. Opening track “Fugazi” deals with a type of misogyny depressingly common in indie music scenes, a hoary subject that Bon treats with uncommon nuance. “But he thought that he showed me Fugazi/ I don’t know how to explain how that feels/ It doesn’t make sense why it hurt me,” sings Bon, the lines simmering with suppressed riot grrl rage and unalloyed grief at a diminishment so damaging it can’t easily be put into words. The elegeic “The Way Things Burn,” by turns dreamy and dirge-like, is a song that grew out of Bon’s despair when leading an online workshop on decolonizing our understanding of fire on the west coast, and an acknowledgement of the mega wildfires that have destroyed communities and turned the skies orange in and around Bon’s hometown of Topanga Canyon, California.
But Bon is similarly powerful when her lyrics are stripped of imagery or metaphor, and she’s laying out her feelings in the plainest of terms. “I don’t know how to love anymore/ I don’t know what love is,” she confesses on the Gillian Welch-esque “Creature.” It’s one of the EP’s sparsest tracks, featuring just Bon’s voice, guitar, and drums, the gentle tangling of the instruments mid-song a reflection of the confused emotions Bon is parsing out in the lyrics. On “Get Better,” Bon accepts the end of an important relationship while releasing herself from blame for its dissolution, the song’s production at first atmospheric and then stripped back as she delivers her final promise: “I won’t keep going/ But please get better,” she sings.
The EP concludes with “Twenty Dried Chilies,” a song that uses a snapshot from Bon’s life—an afternoon in Los Angeles, a bunch of chilies hanging in a window, a desire to watch TV all day—and meticulously builds out to be a story of generational trauma, toxic masculinity, and loss as Bon turns over her memories like stones, confronting and then forgiving the shadows that have been cast over her life. Through the process, she is able to find compassion for herself and those that have hurt her: “It is a cruel sensation, remembering I am human/ And I’m prone to accidents of heart.”
The cover of Sunk is a photo Bon took of Albert holding up their dog, Woody. Bon particularly loves the droll quality of Woody’s expressionless face, the rainbow arcing above his head, the lightheartedness of the image juxtaposed against the seeming hopelessness of the word “sunk.” It was after she had the image developed that she decided on the title. “It made me think about the exhaustion that so many of us live in. I think in late capitalism, especially, we just have so much we’re doing. There’s a saying that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. And yet here I am, I’m in this sunk land and there’s a rainbow and a dog and an incredible community that comes out of accepting the end,” she says.
Responsible Agent: MATT SANDRIN
Territory: Worldwide excl. Europe