First Impressions: Hazel English – Wake UP!

Posted: April 26, 2020 in 2020, 2020s, First Impressions, Hazel English
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

It’s an odd time to navigate new releases, as many seem – through no fault of the artists, I should mention – antiquated. In a flash, they’ve become relics from the pre-pandemic past, figurative instant meals packed with noodles, nostalgia and salt. A few exceptions exist, of course, as some themes, subjects and sounds age better than others. 

Hazel English’s Wake UP! is one of those exceptions. It’s not perfect, but it’s a worthwhile listen and addition to anyone’s music library.

Shoegazing. Dream pop. Jangle pop. Those are but a few of the terms critics are likely throwing around when referencing the well-crafted songs found on the Oakland-based, Australian singer-songwriter’s first long player. As a whole, her music conjures the Paisley Underground and its antecedent, the psychedelic pop of the mid-1960s, not to mention such acts as the Beach Boys and Shangri-Las, while never losing touch with the present. Mind you, it’s a balancing act. Sometimes she slips, but she never falls.

Sonically speaking, the songs often shimmer like moonlight dancing across the ocean at night. Echoes of long ago swirl through the grooves as if from old 45s found in the bargain bin at a thrift shop; at times, it’s akin to Hope Sandoval fronting the Shangri-Las.

Lyrically, however, a certain sameness accents many tracks on the second half of the 10-song set, as fraying and unhealthy relationships are the topics du jour. (Should she stay? Should she go? If she goes, there will be trouble. But if she stays, it may be double.) They’re good songs all, don’t get me wrong, but would have worked better if not stacked one after the other on the figurative turntable that is life.

The opening track, “Born Like,” sets the stage, inviting listeners to join her on a metaphysical trip: “If you look into my eyes/you’ll see yourself inside/swimming in our synergy/take me deep into your mind/our memories combined/they go on to infinity.”

“Shaking” is a slice of restrained frenzy that pulls you under its grooves due to a strong undertow. It’s intoxicating.

“Wake Up!” tackles the consumerist society we live in: “Do you trust what you see/is it just another scheme/get you to buy all of the things/you don’t really need.” 

As the album develops, however, the dreamy and dramatic atmospheres soon underscore themes of fraying and/or unhealthy relationships. In “Off My Mind,” for instance, she reflects on the indecision that leaves one stuck: “the way you’re treating me/I know that it’s not ok but/I’m caught in a moment in-between/and every time we talk/I just don’t know what to say ’cause/I’m caught in a moment in-between/I’m caught in a distant dream.” 

Likewise, in “Five and Dime” she seeks momentary escape from an oppressive situation: “gotta get away/’cause you’re taking up all of my time/you know i need my space/so i’m heading to the five and dime.” 

The promised metaphysical trip turns somewhat mundane by the album’s end, in other words, due to the thematic sameness. Separately, the songs are strong and even spellbinding; collectively, however, they blur together. Yet, that said, I found myself hitting repeat on the album early this morning for no other reason than I was enjoying it. It may not be perfect, but it is good. In the immortal words of the Shangri-Las, it’s “sophisticated boom boom.”

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