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Hannah Peel – “Awake But Always Dreaming” Review

Electronic album of the year?
Hannah Peel
Hannah Peel

Hannah Peel’s first solo album from her rock-based past in a far more dream synth pop based. From the opening melodies to the closing chords it’s an otherworldly soundscape that merges plenty of technical wizardry and some great hooks.

Opener “All That Matters” really stands out as a fantastic pop track. It’s arpeggio synths never let up and when added to huge strings arrangements, thumping beats and Peel’s angelic and siren-like voice it creates something that gets stuck in your head for all the right reasons. It’s a song you can have on repeat and never tire of. “Standing on the Roof of the World” is more down tempo but just as busy. One of the trademarks of the albums production is the way how it is crammed to the brim with sounds – even the quiet moments have ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s all battling each other in its grit but here it works perfectly as the simple track builds into something cinematic with huge drums and thick synth waves pushing against your ears. “Hope Lasts” is more straightforward in its pop sensibilities and reminds me of the best of early 90’s chart toppers but using today’s technologies.

“Tenderly” is the first ballad of the album and starts off quite natural and acoustic and gradually over the course of track shape shifts into something more analogue and digitalised. As it does it get’s slightly more detuned and harsh to the ears – completely going against the title. It’s a really clever piece. “Don’t Take It Out on Me” plays with vocal reverbs in quiet space on the album. The percussion tick tocks whilst the strings and vocal create a whirlpool of sound that you could relax to if there wasn’t the most gigantic tom drum wanting to get involved half way through! It’s a lovely track though that goes against normal song structures.

Throughout the album there’s plenty of ambient noises and sounds that are used to dirty the albums sound. They act as mini interludes or just as depth chargers and “Invisible City” uses all kinds of noises to create a hussling crowd of noise around the piano, string and vocal. In the light side we have that track, on the darker side we have “Octavia” which is more industrial ambient than anything else on the album. Playing around with low bass synths and brass instruments, the first half of the track is like hearing evil brewing in a cauldron. Then after an echo of peace it smashes back with a horror movie finale. The instrumental track is fantastic and whilst wildly different from what else is on the album, it completely fits the vibe of Hannah Peel.

It signals the start of a selection of tracks that really show off the artistic side of Hannah Peel and it’s where the album is elevated from a great album to an absolutely fantastic one. The 8 minute title track is a scattergun of beautiful melodies going in slow motion in the foreground, whilst an audio epileptic fit is going on behind. There’s twisted voice, clipping whispers, electric guitars freaking out and all kinds of noise. The album itself deals with dementia and this track specifically is like the audio battle ground of dementia taking over the brain as you wander off into your own world. Powerful stuff.

“Conversations” thematically continues the confusion of sound and voice with lots of looping spoken word flowing over a gorgeous piano and Hannah’s sublime vocals. For the first time all the noise and over production is stripped away (I will not write Peeled here!!!) and it feels like the album hits a nadir of sorts here. It’s as close to clarity as it gets and its beautiful and emotional. Peel’s high register is designed for tears to flow as she sings “I’m still your little girl. Your still my whole world.” It moves effortlessly into the near nine minute “Foreverest” which is electronica heaven. It takes its time to develop and unveil it’s beauties from the initial lush melodies to its cinematic outro that pulsates your speakers like a heart of lightning. It reminds me of being pulled towards the light and then being sucked up into it – or how that would at least feel and sound like! The closer “Cars in the Garden” is a duet with Hayden Thorpe and is a simple music box and vocal piece with lots of sound damage to echo around it. It’s a cutely eerie lament of confusion as none of it makes sense lyrically but then I guess that is the point.

Frankly, this album caught me completely off guard. What starts out as a beautiful synth pop album is elevated but a tsunami of emotion and daring production choices. Hannah Peel has blown me away and this will be without a doubt one of my albums of the year. Superb.

Recommended Track : All That Matters

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