Thursday, September 05
Mission Theater   All Ages
Portland, OR
Show: 8pm    Doors: 7pm


When you’re young, it can feel like the world is ending every day. But as you grow, you discover new ways to cope. What used to feel heavy is lighter; what once felt muddy can be scrubbed away. This is the overarching theme of rising star renforshort’s vulnerable third EP, Clean Hands Dirty Water, which mines coming-of-age moments and emotional isolation to reveal raw, bittersweet alt-pop ballads and bangers.

Born Lauren Isenberg, the Toronto-based singer/songwriter grew up in a musical family with three brothers who also played instruments and parents who’d play Amy Winehouse and Stevie Wonder concert videos in the background while preparing dinner. By high school, Lauren began composing what would become her first singles on piano and performed at open-mic nights in Toronto.

Releasing her lush, R&B/pop debut single “waves” in 2019, Lauren soon followed up with the teasing and upbeat “mind games,” two EPs (teenage angst (2020) and off saint dominique (2021)), and a bracingly honest debut album, dear amelia (2022). Each project offered a clear-eyed portrait of where Lauren was in her life, whether it was having conversations around mental health or maturing from late adolescence to early adulthood.

Lauren brings her sharply observed, old-soul songwriting to Clean Hands Dirty Water, a fortifying five-song collection of alt-pop tracks that instantly make the personal feel universal. Written in London during a period of intense personal reflection, Clean Hands Dirty Water features collaborations with Jeff Hazin, Jonny Latimer, Ian Fitchuk, Tommy English, PJ Harding, Paul Phamous, Ethan Schneiderman, Y2K, midi jones and nick ferraro. Led by the strummed, contemplative single “serpentine,” Clean Hands Dirty Water is a masterclass in classically truthful storytelling and contemporary pop flair.

“The entire EP’s art is done in charcoal, which is objectively a very dirty medium,” Lauren shares. “I wanted to do that because it felt like a fresh start. I realized that nothing is so irreversible, even if it feels daunting at the moment. The younger you are, things feel a lot heavier. Your hands feel dirty with something someone said to you once that you think will never go away, or a direction that your life is taking that you feel you don’t have any control over… But you do. You can wash your hands. Charcoal’s not that hard to get off. You really could have a fresh start if you wash your hands.”

The first song Lauren wrote for the EP, “serpentine,” came to her as she walked through rainy London alone. “It was the most independent I’d ever felt in my life,” she says. “Even though I’ve lived alone since I was 18, I never felt so far away from my family, my partner, and my friends. There’s something terrifying about that. But also, it felt special — being able to decide every day for myself, by myself. Being an indecisive person, that was a good exercise. And I knew, I’m not going to feel this way forever. I’m not always going to be alone.”

Later, Lauren finds emotional relief on the mid-tempo, percussive “Hurt Like It Should,” which traces the singer’s journey towards a once-meaningful relationship’s end. “It’s the beginning of a fallout,” Lauren says. “Now I’m alone and able to navigate my life… I just think it’s important to let people know how you feel. If I hurt someone, I would want to understand how. The song’s about wanting them to understand how they hurt me… But thank you for giving me this fresh start.”

On the fingerpicked, softly harmonized “Buried Alive,” Lauren recounts spending each day in a haze, just going through the motions. On the surface, she is living life exactly the same way as before, except now everything’s different — because she’s doing it on her own. “I feel so much that I don’t feel anything anymore,” she explains. “This is how I’ve been left, and now I have to deal with it. Thanks? But also, eff you. How am I supposed to know how to do this?”

Meanwhile, the slow-building, synth-flecked “Paris Has Made Me A Man” is a dreamy, loose meditation on the artist Vincent van Gogh and “how places can change you.” Lauren adds “It’s my interpretation of how I would feel if I were him. It’s not historically accurate, but it serves as a template for all unappreciated artists.”

Finally, the undulating, club-ready “Getting Over You” grooves and sways with lightly modulated vocals, quickened beats, and melancholic piano chords. “It’s definitely very different — it’s a standout from the rest of the songs,” Lauren says of “Getting Over You.” Describing the buoyant composition juxtaposed with sorrowful lyrics, Lauren continues: “It’s a universal experience for a lot of people: wanting to skip to the end of the pain. Not wanting to feel like shit anymore. I made some bad decisions, and this is about taking accountability. I should be able to move on and make another, better decision.”

No one ever said growth was easy. But renforshort’s gift for spinning wistful, endlessly catchy yarns out of personal experience will make you feel a lot less alone in heart-heavy moments.