Genre: Indie Folk
Favorite tracks: “Hannah Sun,” “Wonder,” “Polyurethane,” “Reach,” “Stranger Sat By Me,” “Hannah Please”
The desert wind bent the scrub as the dueling acoustic guitars and gut-punching, dead-eyed distortion of “Both Mode” blared from my Subaru’s speakers. I gripped the steering wheel, trying not to let the gusty eastward drafts push me off the two-lane highway as wrens and crows soared in the smoky sky overhead, fighting not to be plunged from the air onto the dusty pavement below. The rural American West was burning and Lomelda’s HANNAH was keeping me alert as I tried to power through the grueling six-hour drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles.
If you told me a year ago that Hannah Read’s work as Lomelda would soundtrack an unsettlingly bleak and dystopian long haul, I frankly would not have believed you. The three full-lengths leading up to Read’s latest record were characterized by meager organic instrumentation and soft-spoken vocals that recalled Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island sketch as Shy Ronnie. While Lomelda existed in the grey area between Adrianne Lenker and Emily Sprague, her music didn’t pack the same punch that made her soundalikes so groundbreaking and captivating. Admittedly, my bias against Lomelda’s music likely stemmed from the fact that I’m a lifelong percussionist—even though I am capable of enjoying music without drums, rhythm is the first thing I gravitate towards in a song. Although moments on M FOR EMPATHY evoked the effectively mournful six-string minimalism of Panda Bear’s 2004 solo debut YOUNG PRAYER, for the most part Read’s songwriting leading up to HANNAH lacked the energy it takes to retain my attention.
HANNAH is one of the most exciting zero-to-100 moments in the last two years of indie rock. The record opens with the immediately gripping one-two knockout of “Kisses” into “Hannah Sun,” and while it may be well-over twice as long as its 16-minute predecessor, the record is a quick and engaging listen that ends far too quickly. But while HANNAH is Read’s easiest album to sit through to date, it contains layers and multitudes that reveal themselves upon the subsequent listens that the record commands. Lomelda has always brought to mind the mid-aughts freak folk revival, and tracks like “It’s Infinite” and “Big Shot” don’t hesitate to use minstrel-like sonics to recall the autumnal transcendentalism of so many New York City songwriters throughout the years. While her Texas-by-way-of-Los Angeles backstory may be crucial to the bohemia of Read’s western identity, the overcast introspection in HANNAH’s nuanced attitude is effortlessly in tune with the legacies of her forebears such as Karen Dalton and Nico. The basement recording quality of “Wonder” and “Reach” capture TRICK-era Alex G’s uncanny ability to evoke sepia-tinted Pennsylvania rain, and there is an overarching Big Thief energy to the record’s crunchy, analog warmth. But while HANNAH’s sonic comparisons may not be difficult to pinpoint, Read’s writing is the most singular it has ever been.
Read writes herself into songs in a way that is both deeply perplexing and also sophisticatedly cheeky. Hannah references herself by name in the record’s title and on three of its tracks, and again on the track “It’s Lomelda.” While there is an earnestness to Lomelda’s vulnerability on HANNAH, it carries the same nonchalance and easiness of having a conversation with oneself in the car. Read’s third-person acknowledgement of herself on the record exudes a newfound confidence and comfort, and hearing her address herself in the third person is refreshingly buoyant after the meek sheepishness her first three records so coyly settled for. The self-referential songwriting on HANNAH is still puzzling and doesn’t fully shed the cryptic veneer that engulfed Read’s prior releases, but the puzzle hidden in the pieces finally begins to take shape. This time the image lurking in its jigsawed edges is so much prettier and more alluring than what was shown on the box.