Though she’s just 22, Noah Cyrus has seen some stuff. As Miley’s younger sister, her music and acting careers launched early — at 16 and 2 (!), respectively — and she released several pop-leaning singles and EPs during her teens, opened an arena tour for Katy Perry in 2017 and was even nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy in 2021. On the less positive side, there was substance abuse, a bad relationship and lockdown isolation — but she overcame all of it, and that battle informs nearly every song on “The Hardest Part,” her long-percolating debut album, which sees her truly finding her voice in a way that her previous recordings only hinted at.
Surprisingly or no, the Nashville native did it by returning home, musically speaking. Although her main collaborators here are Northern Irish producer Mike Crossey (Arctic Monkeys, the 1975) and Australian songwriter PJ Harding (Chromeo, Ruel), the sound is country-leaning, heavy on harmonies, organic instrumentation and Music Row-friendly melodies; its big, stacked harmonies recall everything from the Chicks to Boygenius.
Her music has been heading in this direction since she started working with Harding a couple of years ago, but the previous releases are nowhere near as fully realized as this one. The deeply personal songs are about her experiences of the past few years, as evidenced by the titles: “Every Beginning Ends” (a duet with Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard about a dying relationship), “Mr. Percocet,” “I Burned LA Down,” and the lovely, lovelorn ballad “My Side of the Bed,” which is possibly the best of the many showcases for her strong but nuanced voice, although another close contender is the closing “Loretta’s Song,” dedicated to her late grandmother. And that voice is at the center of all of these songs: It’s often reminiscent of her sister’s, but Noah doesn’t belt, and shows a sensitivity and vulnerability on these songs that belies her age.
With 10 songs over just 33 minutes, it’s a wide-ranging, emotional ride that leaves the listener wanting more. Almost six years after the release of her debut single, we get the feeling that Cyrus’ career really starts here.