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The Hard Maybes - Thank You, I Think? (Mint 400 / Telegraph Hill Records)

24 May 2024

Photo by Elizabeth Wiltshire

Asbury Park, New Jersey has been dining out on its own history for half a century. But the reality is that it hasn’t produced a successful band beyond its own cloistered borders in decades (sorry folks, Gaslight is from New Brunswick). So when Thank You, I Think?, the new EP by Asbury Park’s latest contenders, The Hard Maybes, came across my desk, I think it’s fair to say I felt cynical.

Until I actually listened to it.

I’ll admit, given the current trends in indie music, I expected something a lot sadder, slower, and more acoustic. What came out the speakers, instead, was one of the most vibrant, exciting records to grace the year 2024!

Lead singer Harley Cunha delivers self-reflection in unexpected ways. Whether it’s the 1:1 comparison of failed relationships through the lens of Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner on “Kiss Me Like a Stranger” or reckoning with Catholic guilt on the electrifying “Hail Mary,” Harley’s lyrics are taught and clever, and her band’s arrangements are expertly crafted.

Speaking of the band, front-and-center is rookie guitarist Kyle Hahn. His style is impressive and idiosyncratic, his riffs act as almost an entire second voice, and his skill as an arranger/co-author is unquestionable. Because of this, Hahn emerges not only as the record’s quiet MVP but one of the most promising new talents to come along in some time.

Elsewhere, the group is rounded out by veteran sideman Andrew Ludewig whose skill as a multi-instrumentalist gives the EP its most indispensable sonic flourishes. And perhaps it’s the fusion of new and old that make Thank You, I Think? such a magical record. In addition to Hahn and Ludewig, heretofore unknown drummer Matt Magnifico teams with cantankerous lifer Brian Erickson on bass become a sneakily formidable rhythm section, imbuing the material with a sense of buoyancy and pace that counter’s Hahn and Ludewig’s relentless drive forward.

l to r: Hahn, Erickson, Magnifico, Harley, Ludewig

This all owes as much to the skills of the individual players as it does Harley’s eye for scouting talent; a trait most likely picked up during her tenure as a vocalist for The Foes of Fern, the beloved Asbury Park-based ensemble whose own frontman, Matt Fernicola, also contributed co-writing and production to the sessions.

If you’re in tune with the New Jersey music scene, then there are a lot of sad, slow, acoustic songwriters to whom it would be easy to compare Harley and The Hard Maybes. But you’d be wrong for two reasons. The first is The Hard Maybes don’t trade in the trendy self-pity that passes for introspection. Instead, Thank You, I Think? is balanced with joy, wit, and clever wordplay; all hallmarks of great songwriting. The second reason is far more critical, and likely won’t win this author many friends: for all the praise heaped onto that little town beside the ocean, who, this century, has made it out of Asbury Park, New Jersey? I’m not saying The Hard Maybes are some undeniable lock. But if they continue producing great songs like the ones found on Thank You, I Think?, they might just give themselves a better chance than most.