How do you self-stabilize amidst ongoing crisis? Or, more crucially, what does it mean to question how much control we have over our collective well-being? On Ballad of a Tryhard, the third album by Scott Hardware, the moniker of Toronto-based musician and composer Scott Harwood, he attempts a response by honouring the splendor of “living between emotions.” It’s an album where a rich inner monologue, and the undefined space between reflection and realization can offer an invaluable reprieve. Over luminous keys and sky-sweeping melodies, Harwood reverse engineers his capabilities as a composer skilled in the art of complexity to deliver his boldest album to date — unselfconsciously ambitious Y2K rock; a reimagination of experimental adult contemporary that tweaks the limits of soft rock with curiosity and appreciation.
On Ballad of a Tryhard Hardware conducts a painstaking character evaluation to better understand the world by looking inward. Suspended and exalting, the album bursts with cinematic flourishes that ring with a courageous form of earnestness. Because once you examine the internal toll of people-pleasing, and question if charisma has been overvalued, is there space to imagine a new reality that seeks to uplift rather than wallow — observing sparse moments of beauty and light amidst a world in constant mourning?
Crafted in Spain and co-produced with Matt Smith (Prince Nifty, Owen Pallett), Ballad of a Tryhard is a snapshot of weeks spent in Elche, a sleepy Mediterranean city on the southeast coast, wandering through emptied-out streets, becoming acquainted with the interiors of a historic apartment block, and living for the first time with a familiar love. With unlimited time on his hands, Harwood would write slowly, playing piano until dawn. The result is an album with ornate and bucolic orchestral arrangements that nod to a background in techno and house with a tangled web of synths and strings. On tracks like “Summer” (featuring members of Phedre, Lee Paradise, WHIMM, Vallens, Blunt Chunks, and Jaunt) and “Love Through the Trees,” Harwood tries his hand on bouncy, heartstring ballads built for the open road, while “Watersnake” is an unstoppable earworm that makes an anthemic proposition for her own self-surety.
Prior to his solo work as Scott Hardware, Harwood played with indie rock stalwart Toronto groups like Ostrich Tuning and released ambient pop as Ken Park. A move to Berlin influenced his 2016 debut, Mutate Repeat Infinity, which centered the dancefloor as a site of queer resilience. 2020’s Engel pulled direct inspiration from Wim Wender’s 1987 haunting masterpiece Wings of Desire. In 2021 Harwood was accepted into the Slaight Family Music Lab.
3. Another Day Ending
4. Is Something Wrong Tonight
5. Love Through The Trees
8. Sing Like That