Don’t Let the Ink Dry is an album that pushes against permanence, against getting stuck in a relationship, a state of mind or any setting where stasis is like quicksand. There are few progressions in a person’s life as dramatic as the move into adulthood, where open-ended freedom can feel stifling and you must start relying on yourself more than ever before. This is where we find Eve Owen on her debut.
Fans of The National are likely already familiar with Owen’s stunning voice, as she provided vocals for “Where Is Her Head” on last year’s I Am Easy to Find. Through that collaboration came the production services of Aaron Dessner for this record. With a deft hand, he supports rather than overwhelms Owen’s vision, the paint for her canvas.

Opening track “Tudor” immediately creates a mood, with finger-picked acoustic guitars, cascading piano keys and ghostly backing vocals creating an otherworldly sense. It’s like viewing a séance in a foggy forest. Owen sings, “All at once you walk away blindly to another day,” summing up the album’s manifesto on growing up.

A big part of those transitional years is learning who you can and can’t rely on. In the former category, there’s “Mother,” which brings an electronic rhythm and clean guitar chords. But rather than stay within that groove, atmospheric elements and strings slowly creep into the background, the drum machine is joined by live percussion and the track builds into an anthemic crescendo. For Owen, “Mother” is any type of safety net that allows her to take chances without fear. “Blue Moon” similarly floats on a sea of tranquil love. Owen’s voice rises and falls like the ocean’s tides, as she reflects on unrequited feelings that grow into friendship and gratitude.

But on “She Says,” there’s the pain of broken promises. Over gentle piano chords, the lyrics move from hope to despair to acceptance. In one of the album’s most powerful moments, as she learns to support herself and break away from those who let her down, Owen belts out, “You said you had an open door/ I’m not knocking anymore.”

Relationships also struggle to survive the move into adulthood, which Owen sings about earnestly and vigorously. “After the Love” turns romance into strife, where “Your love is on the run from me/ And I let it go.” The music matches the words with icy acoustic guitars and shuddering strings. While that track has a cold dismissal, “For Redemption” is more conflicted. “Think of me when you’re half asleep/ but don’t walk me home,” Owen sings, perfectly capturing the mix of sadness, love and guilt that comes from a breakup.
Her voice moves effortlessly between smoky weariness to high-pitched hurt, sometimes within the same line. It adds beautifully to the conversational lyrics, like she’s pouring her heart out into a voicemail she’ll never send. With arpeggio guitar patterns and background piano chords, “A Lone Swan” finds emotion in the details of a breakup. “And you know that lipstick color isn’t it mine/ Told you I didn’t wear pink when we met for the first time,” she sings with sad reflection.

While Don’t Let the Ink Dry is more of a personal than political album, part of maturing is the loss of innocence that comes from seeing the potential cruelty of people. On “I Used to Dream in Color,” Owen’s voice gracefully dances over the gliding guitars, like a figure skater cruising on the ice. She turns the transition to adulthood as a ship to a new town that looks gold from a distance but is callous and spiteful up close. Among signs of hate, greed and jealousy, she sings out desperately, “I miss the oblivion of being a young girl.” It’s one of the best songs on the album.

While there are no bum notes found here, “Lover Not Today” and “29 Daisy Sweetheart” cover ground already well-tread by Owen, without offering enough new musically or lyrically. “So Still for You” isn’t bad either, but it’s the one track here that gives the impression of a National-lite song, with its mix of breezy, melancholy chords and finger-picked patterns.

Those are small setbacks though in a passionate debut by a wonderful new voice. Don’t Let the Ink Dry finds strength in the coming-of-age story, one that everyone could relate to. It doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties or sour the joyous moments. Instead, it offers a reflection on the opportunities and fears found in an open road. Everyone struggles with the path they’ve chosen to walk. But for Owen herself, this album is a powerful first step.

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