H. Hawkline: Milk for Flowers Album Review

In the learned vocabulary of pop music, staccato means happy and languid, sustained notes mean sad. It’s the binary “Getting Better” vs. “Ella She Ella’s Leaving Home” established long ago by McCartney and her company. But deliberately defying this shorthand: writing melancholic songs with an upbeat beat? That’s where things get interesting.

It’s a challenge that’s been embraced by generations of songwriting legends, from Harry Nilsson, whose early gems like “One” and “Daddy’s Song” made heartbreak sound bright and effervescent, to Robyn, whose classic 2010 “Dancing on My Own” helped popularize the “sad beat.” It’s also something of a modus operandi for Welsh singer-songwriter H. Hawkline (born Huw Evans), who recently mused that “setting sad lyrics into something more upbeat is more jarring and shocking.” Hawkline’s latest album, Milk for Flowershe flits between whimsical psych-pop and heartfelt pain, and is most poignant when he finds a way to bridge those two poles.

Hawkline began his career playing folk in 2010 a cup of saltbut in recent years, he’s gravitated toward an ornate art-pop sound that draws influence from compatriot Gruff Rhys, who took him on tour, as well as collaborator Cate Le Bon, who produced Milk for Flowers. Even when the songs are filled with sadness, they have a McCartney-esque bounce: a thumping lightness in the piano arrangements on “Milk for Flowers” and “Denver,” a perpetual motion forward with the playful thump of “Plastic Man.” “. .”

That cognitive dissonance is a significant ingredient of an album that deals explicitly with how loss is camouflaged and hidden in the theater of everyday life. Hawkline’s mother died of cancer in 2018; Do these songs feature the surreal side of grief, or is grief an inherently surreal state of mind? The answer floats out of reach. The title track transitions from a chorus highlighting Hawkline’s knack for weird imagery (“I feel like a nun picking roses”) to a bridge that cuts right to the heart of the matter: “And I miss you so much,” she sings. in a shaky croon.

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“Suppression Street” takes us to an avenue that will be as familiar to us as Fascination Street or Respectable Street. With poetic care and inventiveness typical of his work, Hawkline lampoons the daily ritual of suppressing heartache and pretending all is well: “I buy my makeup on Suppression Street/I paint my face for everyone I meet/With the elegance of Nero.” Later, in the second, more tender half of the record, she lets the façade fall away and addresses her mother directly on the plaintive “Like You Do”: “As the night wears us down/And I want to that you know/All the ways I do.” I will need you. Like pain itself, the song is a one-sided conversation, never silenced, never resolved.

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