All his life, H.D. Harmsen has stood behind the scenes. Backstage, out of the light. In the studio, but not on the screen. With Papoose, he steps forward. H.D. Harmsen has already acquired an astute and accomplished reputation in the Iowa music scene as a supporting cast member of multiple outfits. After playing for years in a number of bands, Harmsen now finds himself contributing listful guitar lines to the piano and soul act Christopher the Conquered and providing the foundation as bassist for rock band Derek Lambert and the Prairie Fires. He lurks in the shadows of pit orchestras and behind piles of notation tablets, having arranged strings for the much-awaited debut solo effort of The Poison Control Center‘s Patrick Tape Fleming, known as Gloom Balloon. Patrick has been a huge supporter of Harmsen’s, bringing the experience of playing hundreds of live shows, touring with the likes of The Apples In Stereo and even having Max Weinberg sit in on drums for a show. Patrick has also produced multiple Poison Control Center records, receiving rave reviews from Pitchfork on making it onto dozens of year-end best lists more than a handful of times. More recently, he’s produced the debut LP for Afternoon Records’ recording artist Dolfish, a record which has been praised by the likes of American Songwriter and Paste, and has garnered the attention of Pavement’s Bob Nastanovich.
Papoose was produced by another protege of Patrick’s, Chris Ford of Christopher the Conquered, whose work has been featured by Magnet, Consequence of Sound, and others. Ford & Harmsen created a special bond in the century-old dilapidated schoolhouse where they recorded the album, in small-town Lovilia, Iowa, coalmining capital of a great state that’s known for a lot of things, coal typically not being one of them; perhaps soon, the sign outside of Lovilia will read “LOVILIA: BIRTH PLACE OF PAPOOSE”. We’re willing to bet on it.
Why are we so confident? Because there’s no one else like H.D. Harmsen. He stands over a precipitous divide, one foot balanced on the shoulders of the Gershwin brothers and another in the hands of Lou Reed, with Brian Wilson calmly whispering words of encouragement. Harmsen is one of the few songwriters bridging the gap of the classic American songbook with the ever-curious wave of progressivism rippling through this country’s underground scenes and splashing every couple weeks onto the music media’s radar. Harmsen proudly holds up the flag of New Sincerity, smiling with glee and embracing sentimentality. And these aren’t just words. The music stands behind him. With an album that features everything from strings-laden chamber pop to Tin Pan Alley to crunchy rock and roll and folk-punk love songs, Harmsen shows he’s sings what he means and he means what he sings. The debut record from H.D. Harmsen serves as a portrait of the artist as a mature musician, and a bedrock for the shape of Harmsen’s work to come.