REVIEW: ‘East Side’ is a strong, moving debut from Anna Shoemaker

anna shoemaker review

Opening up to the world is a scary thing to do. There are a lot of people out there, and it’s easy to feel like no one will understand your thoughts or what you’re going through. The use of art makes it a little bit easier, but those doubts still have a way of lingering. Last week marked Anna Shoemaker‘s first foray into giving us an in-depth look into her mind with her debut EP East Side. The result is a project that not only shows Shoemaker can make great music, but a record that takes listeners on a moving emotional journey as well.

East Side begins with “Too High,” the most euphoric track on the EP. The rolling percussion is cool and catchy, and the hook is a big pop-inspired spectacle. That being said, everyone who has struggled with negative thoughts knows it’s hard to fully enjoy the good times. Shoemaker addresses this expertly in the lyrics, explaining her fear that by getting “too high,” the crash into sadness will be much worse. To that end, there’s just a tinge of sadness and nervousness that can be heard in both Shoemaker’s voice and the piano part sprinkled throughout the song. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition that works incredibly well and introduces the complexities Shoemaker weaves into her writing.

Next comes East Side‘s title track, and the crash portended by “Too High” has happened. Shoemaker is brutally honest about her insecurities here, wondering aloud if she’s incapable of committing to the relationships around her because of her problems. It’s shocking to go from the complexity of “Too High”‘s sound to the defeated, sad strumming of an acoustic guitar on “East Side,” but it works brilliantly. The moments where we here Shoemaker repeating phrases underneath the music works especially well, acting as the nagging voice of doubt. Pairing these two songs together to start the album is a smart way to showcase Shoemaker’s incredible musical and emotional range.

Next comes Shoemaker’s first single, “What Am I Doing To Me?” The opening piano chords that seem to hang in the air for an eternity still sound great. The chorus is still a powerhouse, with Shoemaker’s increasingly frantic delivery on the verse builds into the main question of “what am I doing to me?” in a way that gives me chills while listening. “What Am I Doing To Me?” was the perfect choice for a single, as it embodies everything that shines about East Side. There’s the strong songwriting base in the guitar and piano, the added musical flair of the bigger moments, and the lyrical genius that lets us peek into Shoemaker’s mind. In context of the album, “What Am I Doing To Me?” is even more effective, another battle in the war Shoemaker is fighting inside her brain.

This type of emotional journey can affect our relationships with other people, and “Want Something (Say Something)” explores this dynamic. It’s here that Shoemaker reveals the mental wounds she’s received from others around her. “I put everything on the table/ and all I get is ‘You’re unstable'” she sings at one point, a stunning but sadly not uncommon mentality. The shimmering instrumental and Shoemaker’s entrancing delivery of the titular phrase deserve praise here, but the centerpiece is the “phone conversation” that takes place midway through the song. It’s an interesting addition to the song and is used to display a two-way conversation that illuminates new angles in the subject matter, even if it does last a little bit too long.

East Side ends with “Liquor Store,” the second track Shoemaker released before the EP. Its fun vibes and cathartic release are much needed to end East Side, another wise decision when it comes to the structure of the EP. “Liquor Store” showcases some of the small lyrical subtleties I love on East Side. After an entire song singing about how she’s reminded of an ex by having to go past their house, the last line of “Liquor Store”–and by extension East Side–is “took a different road coming home from the liquor store.” It’s a small thing, but Shoemaker indicates her own growth and a little ray of sunshine at the end of her journey.

It’s difficult to create such a coherent and moving experience on any project, let alone on the very first EP. Anna Shoemaker has pulled it off with East Side, letting listeners into her head while also providing a good mix of slow ballads and uptempo party jams along the way. With that combination of music and storytelling, Shoemaker has crafted herself a gem of an EP.