If Agnes Obel focused on prepared pianos.
Hania Rani’s ‘Esja‘ is a stunning instrumental album that shows off a pianist and composer at her utmost best. I was initially expecting more of the same when I bought ‘Home’, Rani’s second album that came out last month. I was welcoming more of the same. Instead, ‘Home’ showcases how a modern classical composer can cross over into world of luxurious alternative folk by bringing along one new instrument – her voice.
It is fascinating because as Agnes Obel burst onto the scene by creating chamber pop that lent heavily on classical music, I feel like Hania Rani is steaming in from the other direction – creating classical music that leans heavily on chamber pop. The two are completely different yet utterly mesmerising in the way they reach the same feel and emotion. The biggest difference is that Hania Rani focuses more on prepared pianos and layers of production effects rather than bringing in strings like Obel.
The delicate nature of the prepared piano, recorded up close and personal, is where Hania revels. Instrumentals like ‘Letter to Glass’ tell so much with the hammers of the piano clunking away. There is a clock ticking and chiming quietly in the background but its haze and pace tell so much of a story. ‘Buka’ instead feels like a rhythmic wave of pointed piano keys. It is bombastic and full of poise and grace. ‘Summer’ takes gentle synth runs and bird song to accompany a watery shimmer of piano trickles. These moments are full of joy and warmth.
Then we have the tracks were the music feels more claustrophobic and dense. ‘Zero Hour’ and ‘Tennen’ for example use rich synth pads and strings alongside drum loops to drown the piano in sound. They are both effective in providing rich emotive anthems more akin to something GoGo Penguin could create. Fans of Rani’s debut album will lap up ‘F Major’, ‘Rurka’ and ‘Ombelico’ for their dark and mysterious piano solo compositions too.
The immediate stars though are the more traditional vocal ‘songs’ though and new fans should absolutely start here. Hania’s voice is mystical, emotive and delicate. With the opening track ‘Leaving’ she sails in and out with layers of words as if she herself is cleverly travelling away from the music itself waving goodbye. ‘Nest’ is a crystalline shimmer of comfort with Rani using her higher pitch to great effect. The other trio of vocal songs are all classics in the making too. The title track ‘Home’ is possibly the culmination of all the instruments and songcraft to create a classical electronica infused chamber pop anthem. There is so much going on, it takes repeated listens to catch it all. ‘I’ll Never Find Your Soul’ and closer ‘Come Back Home’ both take from the traditional blues and jazz instrument set but feel more like a Obel / Fiona Apple cross over. The latter is interesting because Rani layers her voice with vocoder versions of herself so as she sings of home, she sounds more and more alien.
Put bluntly, ‘Home’ is a masterpiece. I was entranced from the first listen from start to finish. The choice to include her voice this time around is inspired and leaves Rani with so many directions to choose from in the future. Hania Rani has well and truly confirmed her talents as a composer, performer and emotional miner with ‘Home’. Highly recommended.
Recommended track: Home
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