What does Hanakiv sound like?
Hauschka’s prepared piano cascading down a waterfall to oblivion.
The review of Hanakiv – Goodbyes
I think Hanakiv has a sense of humour when it comes to song titles. On her debut album ‘Goodbyes’ she has two titled Meditation, two titled Home and none of them sound like how you would expect them to. Indeed, Hanakiv’s debut is a really challenging album on many levels but it is one drenched in passion and emotion. Every note that she hammers out on her prepared pianos is a visceral threat to the ears in a way you rarely hear from the alt-jazz world and her label Gondwana Records. This record embodies the word dangerous and I’m here for it.
Each track has its own identity across the album but there is a returning theme of cascading notes. It is as if each song is a flickering shimmer or a twinkling fragment. Many of these tracks start off in one key and then start to spiral off their axis and become increasingly chaotic and dissonant too. Add in that the piano has muted and fuzzy notes and that Hanakiv wields her piano like a weapon and you have a percussive aggressor waiting to attack at any time. Sometimes it sounds dramatic such as ‘Lies’, which adds in all kinds of ticking electronic effects to evoke a countdown on the track. Elsewhere with ‘Meditation III’ the prepared piano is so clunky and tinny it sounds like Evelyn Glennie has arrived. Piano notes are stretched out into synth glassy tones but Hanakiv isn’t sounding meditative. Instead, the track sounds like a comment on a mind that refuses to sit still, hopping from one frenzied phrase to another.
Electronica is a huge part of this prepared piano album. On the track ‘And it felt so right’ the title’s phrase is spoken and then ripped out of all recognition as it reverberates around your ears and is chopped into tiny pieces. There is a constant return on the album to making the piano sound more like a bell. I partly attribute this to Hanakiv’s musical upbringing as she started playing the handbells as her first instrument. The one track where she doesn’t mess with the piano is the central masterpiece ‘No Words Left’. Here, the Estonian composer lets the piano unfurl with nothing more than a gentle saxophone to back her up. The seven-minute piece is heart-wrenching and goes at such a pace, with such longing, I could listen to it on repeat for an hour without noticing.
Entering into the final third of the album, ‘Meditation II’ turns the piano into a pizzicato string section over deep bass drones and synth vocals. Ethereal and otherworldly, perhaps, but instead of sounding meditative, I feel overwhelmed with its grand scope. Perhaps that is the point. It’s a fascinating arrangement to unpack though. Equally devastating is ‘Home II’. This brings Hanakiv the closest to neo-classical but the song itself is tainted with mild horror and dread. As her piano playing gets harder and more expressive – rumbling across the higher or lower registers, the strings wane as if they are crying. There is a tumbling ferocity between the piano and strings as they trade blows with each other. I’m not sure this home is a happy one, but ‘Home I’ feels a little calmer, but far more pensive. Instead of banging out the notes, this piece focuses on intimate and intricate speed. The pace and complexity of the piece are astounding.
In an abstract and impactful album, I saved the opening title track for last. It is possibly the most melodic and easiest track to start with Hanakiv. There is a brooding, dramatic and cinematic piano riff. Dramatic drums, synths, sax and guitars fade in and out to create an industrial machine of emotions and slowly that cinematic piano riff drifts into chaos and dissonance. It embodies everything this album is about succinctly into a five-and-a-half-minute masterpiece. Hanakiv set the bar high with this track and delivers a sensory and emotional experience from beginning to end. ‘Goodbyes’ will be one of my top albums of 2023. Of that, I have no doubt. Anyone with a passing interest in classical, neo-classical, piano or jazz crossover music owes it to try this album out once.
Recommended track: Goodbye
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