Storytelling and melancholic melodies turn anthemic on Izzy Heltai’s new EP.

If Northampton folkster Izzy Heltai sounds tired, it’s because he’s been on the road, playing dives and coffee shops, and sleeping in his car. This is the backdrop—an itinerant young musician trucking it on his own, solitude assisting self-reflection—to Only Yesterday, a four-track EP Heltai released on April 19. The record is chock-full of minimalist folk melancholy, but it has an uplifting, power ballad bent. “Though these songs don’t necessarily reflect the most upbeat themes,” Heltai explains, “the investigations within myself that were required to write them were facilitated by me feeling at peace with what I was doing. It was probably the happiest I’ve ever been.” Aptly, the record has the soul of a campfire confessional and a sound familiar to fans of The Milk Carton Kids. Hoarse and textured, articulate and resigned, Heltai’s voice conveys the sense that he’s weathered the storm. Not the kind with torrential rain, or 70 mph winds, but the kind of storm that’s internal.

The EP crescendos quickly with “Marching Song,” a powerful, if bittersweet, hymn. Sparsely yet diligently arranged, the track uses wafting piano chords, plodding trumpet riffs, and a plaintive guitar to transduce melancholy into anthemic relief. It doesn’t matter if you don’t quite make out all the words the first listen. The ones you do hear set the tone; “I couldn’t tell you through the telephone,” Heltai sings, “I’m not myself anymore… I’m walking out the door now.” With personal but relatable lyrics, “Marching Song” creates a space simultaneously intimate and universal for stories about relationships and self-worth.

While intimate and folky, the EP also has elements adapted from the rock, and even pop, playbooks. Heltai has a knack for strong melodies – not quite earworms, but infectious and singable – and captivating lyrics. It’s easy to image lighters, or nowadays iPhones, waving in solidarity as he bellows about lost love. On “Mountain” he croons, “you can feel it in the air somehow!” Despite this energy, the EP hardly has any percussion at all, preserving a mellow tone. “When I perform,” Heltai explains, “it’s alone, just me and my guitar. I think a big part of the performance is vulnerability.” The EP is undoubtedly heartfelt, but a fuller sound could have conveyed how empowering vulnerability can be.

Heltai is perhaps at his most delicate and—while we’re on the subject—vulnerable on “Common Sense.” As a wandering fiddle conjures the Irish countryside and slow cymbal rolls ebb and flow, he sings, “Truly I don’t think I’ve loved another since… I don’t think I really knew you like I thought I did.” He reminds us to uncover buried emotions with dignity and grace. Heltai’s current mission is sharing his message on the road, where Only Yesterday took shape. He’ll soon have more experiences to convert to his catalog, already a rich representation of life lived. And of course, if all goes well, he’ll no longer have to sleep in his car. He’ll have a van.

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