Over the last 11.5 years of HearFeel I’ve probably been fairly candid about most of my experiences: quite some time ago I realised that that one of the things I wanted to bring to my writing was a candid presentation of myself in an otherwise frequently inauthentic internet. Aside from anything else it gives readers an honest look at my perceptions of otherwise largely abstracted sound, and while many of my trials and tribulations have been discussed through the medium of music here, one I don’t explore very often is romance.
This has always been an embarrassing subject for me even from when I was little: I’ve always found it hard to talk about my feelings for/with women, hated the needling from people who can see the transparencies of my infatuations, cringed away from conversations about my relationships and past sexual encounters. I suppose everyone has their boundaries, and this is one that I think should, largely, just remain private.
Obviously that at times works against me: how can I express myself when the feelings bubble just beneath the surface if I keep them unspoken? How do I decide what to share and what to keep to myself? Music, largely, mitigates this problem, as personal circumstance and feeling filters through someone’s else’s words as projection, reflection.
Millennials have been working on the uniqueness of navigating this difficult space in modern life, caught between the implications of the real world and the limitlessly uninhibited digital one, on the freedom of emotional expression anywhere all the time, but within the constraints of social norm. For some time I’ve found myself interested in Hannah’s music that seems to so effortlessly touch on these timeless romantic problems set within the modern framework, and the delicate balancing act of sharing this strife to the world,
“Kinda real, kinda oooh”
Her first work, Pink and Blue, released on PC Music in 2013 and quickly became the posterchild for their sound, one of “futuristic” post-ironic Pop that fused AG Cook’s genius production with accessible millennial ennui. Despite this popularity it took six years for Hannah’s debut, Reflections, to arrive and prove that PC, with all its trailblazing proto-Hyperpop weight, had enough in it for a mature and stable full-length. And it sort of feels appropriate to talk about it now with a new record on the horizon (and indeed, the recent news of PC Music’s retirement).
At its heart, Reflections is a lovelorn record about loss and unrequited love, the struggles of moving on but also the need to do so, feelings of loneliness in an overconnected world, and how jumbled and parasocial it all becomes in digitalspace. There’s a cool, glossy isolationism in its sound and tone, with Hannah at times presented in an almost robotic way through the autotune and her crisp and distant lyrics. And yet despite that icy outer shell, there’s quite a lot of life and longing (and musicality) within.
The seminal opener (incidentally the only track that wasn’t pre-released or performed live before the record) bends into view and barely rises above a whisper on its flattened synths and smothered vocals. It’s a haunted beginning but sets the idiosyncratic core of the album in its darkling sparkliness, with similarly lethargic “Invisible” segueing in to fill the awkward inbetweens with shimmering arpeggios as Hannah croons gently on being “on my own tonight, and every night” as she mourns the separation.
It isn’t even really until the half way mark of “True” that the melancholic mega-tanker begins to make its turn, picking up a little more rhythmic energy in its drum machines and impassioned singing as Hannah starts to realise the catharsis towards moving on. And then the tonal break arrives in “Concrete Angel”, a furious reimagining of Gareth Emery’s 2012 vocal trance piece. All of a sudden the album is transformed, a real human is unlocked in the soaring vocal highs of the chorus before obliterating into Happy Hardcore and Breakcore, a flash of rave gold and profound spasmodic zeal previously lost in inky depression.
It signals a somewhat more empowered wind-up in the second half, with “The Ending” chasing its bombastic predecessor with ticklish percussion and circular thoughts: “don’t know if I’m coming or going or coming or going or going or gone”. And as life begins to move on to possible partners new in the impeccably cute and carefully over-enunciated “Shy” there’s just this glimmer of a smile even as she talks herself out of her social nervousness.
But I’m still shy
I-I-I’m so so
And then, then there’s the closer “Make Believe”, another moment of interstellar heaving impossibility as Hannah loses herself into digital visions of idealisation. It first moves in mirror step to the long distant opener but quickly broadens out into something anthemic – millennially anthemic in fact – as brooding synths and daydreaming lyrics of romantic fantasy transmute. Reality bends onto itself as Hannah’s voice melts into an electric guitar solo (yes it does) to shimmer over the beds of Trance-family electronica. It’s a perfect rendering of digital fantasising, of unrealised millennial love, of parasocial dreaming, recreated in hyperreal sonic gloss.
We all have these echoes that haunt us through social media, lovers past and crushes present, who feel so alarmingly close through a screen. People we can’t seem to, or perhaps don’t want to, escape, pixellated dreamers of intimacy in a world rushing so quickly to divest itself of physical connection. Worse still, if often feels better and safer for us to idolise and imagine from afar: reality after all can be so often disappointing. Hannah is that placeholder, the impossible, the unobtainable, an embodiment of desire and loss and longing, the virtual dream girl.
I sort of find myself living this way, holding people up at a distance, pathetically clinging on to hopes of failures and not moving on. Reflections is a good title, it reverses what we don’t want to look at, and yet must face sincerely (or in whatever meta-ironic way we use to cope). A beautiful, iconic record that solidifies a fragment of the social zeitgeist in a way that much Pop never touches.
Took my time to figure out what’s truly real
Told myself it’s wrong to fake the way I feel