Dream pop can sometimes feel detached and low-stakes, but not in the hands of Annie Hamilton. The Sydney solo artist applies an urgent kick of immediacy to shoegaze-style layering, stacking heady textures so impactfully that everything she sings about begins to feel like sensory immersion. That’s echoed in the lyrical themes across her debut album, which equates lightning strikes and natural disasters to the inner strife of heartbreak and romantic betrayal.
Such urgency can be credited in part to Hamilton scrapping all of her works-in-progress when the pandemic hit and starting anew from that dramatic turning point. Coming off the back of Australia’s cataclysmic bushfires in early 2020, which directly inspired ‘All the Doors Inside My Home Are Slamming Into One Another’, Hamilton captures that time period’s overpowering anxiety, which hasn’t completely abated years on.
Co-producing with Pete Covington (Thelma Plum) and Methyl Ethel’s Jake Webb, with the latter co-writing and arranging several songs, Hamilton also tapped members of DMA’s, The Preatures and I Know Leopard to accompany her on the record. Rather than steal attention away from Hamilton, those assorted contributions feed into the soupy air of uneasiness introduced on opener ‘Providence Portal’. Featuring the album’s title phrase, which references people’s return to childlike comforts during lockdown, the song showcases a world-weary ache to Hamilton’s singing while the accumulation of sloshing textures evokes The National as well as Sharon Van Etten’s latest material.
That pulsing busyness continues in ‘Exist’ as strings and synths give way to resounding group vocals. With a well-timed whip crack standing in for thunder, ‘Electric Night’ opens the door for the thematically linked ‘Night Off’, the first track Hamilton produced on her own. This hazy standout rides an undertow of ’90s-style psychedelic rock, evoking Lorde in the stream-of-consciousness flow of Hamilton’s singing, especially at the chorus.
Other tracks drop us right in the thick of Hamilton’s experiences, from the chaotic thrust of ‘Bad Trip’ to the seize-the-moment imperatives of ‘Again’: “The swell is heaving / You might as well jump in”. Coursing with glitchy static midway through, ‘Pieces of You’ is grounded with portentous piano and lyrics that describe braving a candlelit graveyard only to bleed through a pair of stockings. Brashest of all is ‘Labyrinth’, which steadily builds to a surge of intense electronics that suits the heightened desperation of the lyrics: “If my heart is a labyrinth, you’re outside the walls / And if you climb over you’re falling, falling.”
Finishing with a grand cascade of synth melodies and distorted beats, it’s one of the album’s most riveting turns. By contrast, the closing ‘Whirlwind’ is a more spectral send-off that seems to offer relief from the turmoil that came before. Hamilton sings about the promise of opening the blinds, conveying a sense of finally being able to look forward with some degree of clarity. After the constant uncertainty that’s hung over the past few years – and very much animated this powerful debut – Hamilton deserves that much at least.
- Release date: [PIAS] Australia
- Record label: May 20