By Alex Szeptycki
The intimate emotions captured by Hannah are enhanced by Lomelda’s ability to be both revelatory and inscrutable in the same breath.
Hannah Read, the singer-songwriter otherwise known as Lomelda, understands that some things are better left unsaid. Her songs waft by like snippets of past moments, vivid if partial evocations of a particular place and time. Some are kind, fuzzy, and warm. Others are dark, claustrophobic, and emotionally fraught. Each tune offers another window into the singer’s psyche. On her fourth album, Hannah, Read has deepened her sound as well as embraced her songwriting quirks. Lomelda’s softer side consistently shines through on what is her most fully realized album to date.
Lomelda’s music exudes a quiet closeness, her introspective and meditative lyrics carefully placed in an understated and lush sonic landscape. Read’s whispered count-off, accompanied by meditative acoustic strumming, on the tender opener “Kisses” draws the listener in. The song slowly opens up; guitars begin to interlock over soft drums and barely there synths. Read sings “Lookin’ at me in the mornin’ say ‘I can’t believe we kissed’” in a way that skillfully creates a gentle scene.
But this gentleness belies an anxiety that permeates Hannah. Its turmoil plays out on a small scale, invading solitary moments and personal conversations. The jaunty folk riffs of “Hannah Happiest” are dampened by conflict, as Read sings “FaceTime you from the shore/Should I not call you from the ocean anymore?” The verse closes with a declaration, “Don’t wanna argue if it’s right/Or if I’m like you’d like,” that succinctly underlines the disconnect. The final stanza of “Hannah Please” begins with the plea “Why can’t I speak?/Come on Hannah please,” evoking, again, her silently fraught consciousness. These small passages of uncertainty consistently add depth to the tracklist.
The intimate emotions captured by Hannah are enhanced by Lomelda’s ability to be both revelatory and inscrutable in the same breath. This contradiction paints a revealing portrait. The brief “Polyurethane” sees Lomelda unexpectedly struck by a bad memory; she sings, “I cried while polyurethane dried/Why, why do I try remembering this?” over downcast keys and acoustic picking. The track’s brevity adds to its blunt impact, its intimation of sudden and unexpected sadness. Later, “Stranger Sat by Me” presents what is perhaps the album’s most dire story. Read is in the midst of a physical breakdown, murmuring “I called from all fours/A stranger sat by me/She was workin’ security.” The album’s occasionally intense scenes carry considerable wallop.
Hannah‘s emotional intricacy is deepened by an expanded instrumental landscape. The quiet, folksy moments remain front and center, but they are offset by noisier, more fleshed-out passages. “Stranger Sat by Me” becomes all the more harrowing because of the spacey guitars and synths that pervade the back half of the track. In an early highlight, “Wonder,” Lomelda experiments with fuzzed-out noise rock: driving, distorted guitars give agency to Read’s aspirational mantra of “When you give, give it all.” The sound darkens considerably on the instrumental “Both Mode,” which lumbers forward, menacingly, propelled by dissonant oscillations between acoustic and electric guitar strumming. What’s impressive is that these loud spots don’t spoil the softer edges of Hannah; the decibels may be raised slightly, but the serene atmosphere is never disturbed.
Lomelda’s musical range points out how she can draw, with confidence, on a broad array of influences. Though the song itself is a dud, “It’s Lomelda” succinctly plays homage to the musician’s influences, from Low to Yo La Tengo and Frank Ocean. The stuttering guitar riff never really gets out from under its own feet, and Read’s lyrics here pale in comparison to the rest of her work. Nonetheless, the tune illuminates because you can hear so many other voices in her music: the quiet and fuzzy cacophony of Tengo, the weighty guitars of Low, the hermetic melancholia of Frank Ocean. It’s all there, woven together more gracefully in songs like “Reach,” whose guitars alternate between peaceful and chaotic as Read intones “So confused who I have been who I haven’t/Outta habit, now.”
Read also puts her own songwriting quirks on display, particularly her stylish vocal tics. She has a tendency to linger on syllables, sometimes for an entire measure — and then dart through the rest of the word. It leaves the impression she’s always meticulously searching for just the right words. Listen to her drawn out delivery — over straightforward strumming — of the line “What was it good for/Nothin’ at all/Thought it could be golden/Thought it could be true” on “Tommy Dread.” It complicates what threatens to be a simple folk tune. She frequently uses repetition, often concluding songs with meditative mantras. These endings become dramatic highlights, such as the finale of “Hannah Sun” which finds the singer repeating the phrase “Hannah do no harm” as the song slowly fades out.
One eccentricity that takes some getting used to is the brevity of some of these tracks. Instrumental tidbits like “Sing for Stranger” are over before they’ve even begun, while some tracks end in under two minutes. In some cases, such as “Polyurethane,” the quicksilver tactic is successful; the shortness emphasizes the compact power of Read’s lyrics. In other instances, such as “Big Shot,” the song is barely around long enough to make an impression. Read’s utterances of “Big shot, there’s no excuse/you blew it/where were you?” are vivid and subdued, but they make up half the tune. On occasion, there’s just not much there.
Still, when it chooses to be substantial, Read’s songwriting is wonderfully tender, even with its touches of sadness and anxiety. There is real despair here, but it is always offset by warmth, whether it comes in the form of morning kisses, the kindness of a stranger, or a lush instrumental passage. Hannah‘s hushed storytelling enthralls because it’s buoyed by an artistic self-assurance that demands you listen closely.
Alex Szeptycki is a writer from Charlottesville Virginia. He recently graduated from Stanford University, Majoring in American Studies with a focus in contemporary art and pop culture. He’s currently working as a freelance writer at The Arts Fuse while navigating post grad life in a pandemic.