As important as debut albums are as an introduction to audiences, perhaps more vital still is the process of making them, giving the artist an opportunity for deep reflection and personal growth. In writing lyrics, much like keeping a diary, one can keenly explore emotions and reassess past experiences that have shaped the person they are before setting those words to music. Stay Proud of Me gives a clear-cut depiction of growing up with deep insecurities; take those anxieties and amplify them by having your adolescence take place in an American suburb, and that was Abby Hwong’s backdrop for their first offering as NoSo.
We find ourselves in neighbourhoods that have existed for decades with “Rich kids and boutique drugs” and women that devote their mornings to “power walk and gossip about teenagers”. Within that superficial bubble, Hwong gives a strong first impression, both musically and lyrically, in this earnest coming-of-age record. “And so lovely, lovely to meet you again / Lovely to be born again,” they sing on ‘Parasite’. In that song, the Korean-American musician candidly describes the feeling of coming to know themself in a new, more comfortable, body: “Looking down I’m free / It was worth the wait / Stay proud of me”.
Identity is a prominent theme across the record’s succinct 35 minute run-time. It’s once again astutely articulated on ‘David’, one of the many breezy, golden, California-soaked indie-pop arrangements. NoSo described the song’s origins as coming from a dream they had in which they were trapped in the body of a white man who’s adored by women and respected by men. They were acutely aware of its fantasy while still in the dream and woke up feeling emotional and disappointed in themself because they’d spent so many years unlearning internalised racism and getting to a confident place in their identity. This level of rawness and openness is abundant in NoSo’s music and is a captivating quality throughout. The lyrical themes are contrasted with texturally rich uptempo melodies elevated by skilful guitar licks (‘I Feel You’, ‘Feeling Like A Woman’, ‘I’m Embarrassed I Still Think Of You’) and luminous synths. Musically, it’s an assured artistic statement.
This is an endearing and engaging debut; NoSo shows great promise for their future.