The bold balladry of “Indio,” one of four exciting new songs on Casey Ahern’s EP He Was Summer, starts off humbly enough on the whim of a poignant acoustic guitar melody that ambitiously marches into a danceable groove. Suddenly we’re washed with electric guitars and an evenly-paced rhythm led by Ahern’s honeysweet vocals, a burning mixture of country tenderness and pop luster. She sings of festivals and bright lights, good times and an open-minded view that comes with embracing the California life. Ahern is swinging from the rafters come the chorus, inviting us to engage in the lively stampede of harmonies that are smothering the rhythm of the song in surrealism. If one were to judge He Was Summer on this one track alone, they might be inclined to see Casey Ahern as a folkie singer/songwriter with a penchant for pop friskiness, which wouldn’t be all that untrue. Those who crave a little more are in for quite the treat as they proceed through the other three songs here, which arguably bring an impeccably talented young woman to the forefront of contemporary indie composers.
Each of the tracks that He Was Summer contains offers up a different side of the multidimensional Ahern, who isn’t shy about letting her hair down and going after some big melodic climaxes in all four songs. “Like I Do” might be a slow ballad, but don’t let its blue demeanor fool you. Ahern constantly finds a way to dig herself out of whatever surface level emotion exists in a song, and in both this track and the simpler “Take Me by the Hand,” her intrepid charisma is the dominating force to be reckoned with.
There’s a lot to be said about her backing band, but at the same time we never get distracted by the showmanship of the music – something that’s become an increasing problem among alternative country artists with a taste for rock n’ roll volume. There’s still an edge to songs like the title track and “Indio,” but it’s always controlled chaos that never interrupts the overall flow of the songs nor the consistency of the record as a complete piece.
He Was Summer is a strong debut from a songwriter who understands the human condition but isn’t self-righteous in the statements she makes. Songs like “Take Me by the Hand” and “Indio” feel more like personal reflections from Ahern than they do commercially-stylized pop songs that were meant to be relatable to a large audience of nameless, faceless consumers. Her personality bleeds through this material and asks us to look at the world from her perspective, if only for the length of a plaintive country tune. I think that 2019 is going to be a really enormous year for Ahern as she continues to build on the momentum generated from this stellar release, and if we’re lucky, she’ll treat us to a full length album before 2020 rolls around. She’s going places fast, and though California hasn’t produced a lot of big country stars recently, that narrative appears to be changing with the entry of Casey Ahern on the scene.