The road to self-forgiveness is paved with self-doubt. That little voice inside your head is always the biggest impediment to full recovery, regardless of whether the event in question is major or small, recent or from years ago.
Nicole Rodriguez, who records under her moniker Pearla, understands this better than most. On her song, “Forgive Yourself,” she details some of these events in her past, from the routine (“Can you forgive yourself for missing the last get together? / It’s alright to stay inside if you think that will make you feel better”) to the traumatic (“Can you forgive yourself for turning your back in fear / When that man died on the welcome mat at the coffee shop that you worked at last year?”).
She knows full well that true self-compassion is difficult to achieve, and it’s clear by the end of the song, when she repeats many variations of the line, “Can you forgive yourself uh huh?,” sometimes altering it to “Can you convince yourself?” or “You can forgive yourself.” The “uh huhs,” sung in the outro and throughout, are almost mocking, as if she’s saying, “Of course you’re not going to actually forgive yourself! Don’t be naïve!” As every “forgive yourself” hits in the track’s final minute, the music becomes increasingly chaotic, more demonic with each repetition. It starts out simple with guitar fuzz, but it quickly envelops the 23-year-old’s voice before collapsing on itself entirely in a cloud of feedback, like something you’d hear in a horror movie. It’s one of the more captivating moments in music this year.
Quilting & Other Activities, Pearla’s consistently beautiful debut EP—and first release on EggHunt Records, Lucy Dacus’ former label—is full of flashes like this. Rodriguez cleverly tosses a lot of curveballs: a bizarre drum fill here (“Daydream”), building guitar feedback there (“Somewhere”). This is the sort of dependably gorgeous singer/songwriter release that almost sounds like a lullaby at times, but Rodriguez refuses to allow you the nap, using creative methods to throw the listener for a loop. She demands your attention, and it’s nearly impossible to turn away, frequently recalling the best of Phoebe Bridgers or Julien Baker.
That’s not to say she doesn’t shine without using production tricks. EP opener “Quilting” sounds like if one of First Aid Kit’s Söderberg sisters ever went solo, complete with a brilliant lead guitar line and Rodriguez’s vocals that soar, particularly when she just goes for it and screams, “And now I’m reaching out with both hands and nothing’s there.” “Somewhere” creates a more melancholic mood as her fingerpicked guitar takes center stage in front of soothing atmospheric guitar and synth effects.
The world seemingly stops on closer “Washing Machine,” a solo acoustic track that clearly never made it past the demo stage. It begins with simple tales of hearing the “washing machine in the back of my dreams” and “tripping over the same fucking rock every morning on the sidewalk when I leave under the lamppost at the corner of Montrose.” But the creaky lo-fi recording sounds like a serenade straight from her bedroom in Brooklyn, each word carrying more emotional weight than the last.
Before long, that washing machine takes on a much more devastating meaning: “That damn washing machine overpowering me when my mother called and said you passed suddenly / Well I held onto my heart and fell down to my knees, and I screamed out / ‘I want out, completely and utterly,’” she sings, her voice reaching a feeble, yet empowering fever pitch.
The song ends with Rodriguez repeating “you are here and not there” over and over until it subtly morphs into a handful of “you are heres” as her acoustic guitar rings out for a final few seconds. It’s a show-stopping, breathtaking roller coaster of catharsis, one that only whets your appetite for more with just a half-dozen songs. On Quilting & Other Activities, Pearla reveals herself as something truly special, a talented force to be reckoned with in the new decade.