by contributing writer Hannah Meeske
In NPR’s tiny desk concert with this duo, they are not wearing overcoats; instead Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell donned oversized white shirts. The New-York-based singer-songwriters personified their music with dance moves, their voices harmonizing and their movements matching the rhythm. On first listen I couldn’t differentiate the two voices, not that they are so similar but because they complement each other so well. The blonde, Hana Elion, sings in a higher pitch. Brunette JJ Mitchell has a lower raspier voice. Watching them sing, their voices are very distinct as they sing separate parts and then harmonizing at other times.
Elion and Mitchell met in college but their music makes it sound like they’ve been lifelong friends. They had been writing their songs on their own for a while, but never took it very seriously—until they sang together. “Little Memory” was their first song together and it is about someone who can’t get another person off their mind and is wondering if maybe they’re on their mind too. The chorus: So pick me up don’t run too fast / I promise I’ll hold on till I’m the last one / Standing / Oh, down and down I’ll go with you / Till all that’s left is one / Little memory. “Little Memory” is the beginning of their original lyrical sound.
The Overcoats released their debut album Young in 2017 and currently they are touring with pop-band Tennis. The album churns a yearning nostalgia with conversational lyrics that parallel a pain shared between two friends. The title
conjures the infantile vulnerability we feel in times of strife. The Overcoats’ genre is hard to define as it has some bluegrass and folk roots mixed with electronic pop.
On the album Young, the song that replayed in my head hours later was “Hold Me Close.” It is melodic and catchy. The chorus: So hold me close ‘til the night turns gray / Different faces but the song’s the same / So hold me close ‘til the night turns gray / Different faces but the song’s the same.
On the album there are three songs about parents: “Father,” “Mother,” and “Smaller Than My Mother.” It’s reminiscent of our younger selves. “Father” is short and repetitive but depicts an understanding father. “Mother” is shorter in length as far as lyrics but a longer track, slow and musical with a haunting echo in the background. “Smaller Than My Mother” is about a man and repeats the line I keep on shrinking and he stays the same.
The song “23” flies under the radar but the opening line is something I’ve joked about my significant other but seems very real in these lyrics. The line says Honey, you’re a full-time job / And I’m tired of rescuing you. And it continues adding friction with the chorus, Forever’s a long time when it doesn’t feel right / And bein’ his wife’s like one long sleepless night / I’m exactly where I said I would be / With my man before 23. The raw emotion and straightforwardness of Overcoats’ words transport the listeners into the middle of a private vent session between two friends.
These days good music to me needs to
be meaningful, toe-tappin’ and worthy of blaring on the radio while stuck in traffic, but it also has to be something I can play in the background while I’m writing. Too much to ask? Not with Overcoats’ album.