Within the discovered vocabulary of pop music, staccato means glad and languorous, sustained notes signify unhappy. It’s the “Getting Better” vs. “She’s Leaving Home” binary established way back by McCartney and co. However to wilfully defy this shorthand—to write down melancholy songs at an upbeat clip? That’s the place issues get attention-grabbing.
It’s a problem that’s been accepted by generations of songwriting legends, from Harry Nilsson, whose early gems, like “One” and “Daddy’s Song,” made heartbreak sound brilliant and effervescent, to Robyn, whose 2010 traditional “Dancing on My Own” helped popularize the “sad banger.” It’s additionally an M.O. of kinds for the Welsh singer-songwriter H. Hawkline (born Huw Evans), who not too long ago mused that “setting sad lyrics to something more upbeat is more jarring and impactful.” Hawkline’s newest album, Milk for Flowers, flits between whimsical psych-pop and candid grief, and is most affecting when it finds a approach to convey these two poles collectively.
Hawkline started his profession with fingerpicking people on 2010’s A Cup of Salt, however in recent times, he’s steered in the direction of an ornate art-pop sound that pulls affect from his fellow countryman Gruff Rhys, who’s introduced him on tour, in addition to longtime collaborator Cate Le Bon, who produced Milk for Flowers. Even when the songs are steeped in disappointment, there’s a McCartney-esque bounce to them: a pitter-patter levity to the piano preparations in “Milk for Flowers” and “Denver,” a perpetual ahead movement to the playful thump of “Plastic Man.”
That cognitive dissonance is significant ingredient of an album that’s explicitly involved with how loss is camouflaged and hid within the theater of day by day life. Hawkline’s mom died of most cancers in 2018; do these songs reckon with the surreal aspect of grief or is grief an inherently surreal way of thinking? The reply floats simply out of attain. The title monitor flits from a refrain that highlights Hawkline’s knack for oddball imagery (“I feel like a nun picking roses”) to a bridge that cuts proper to the guts of the matter: “And I miss you/So much,” he sings in a quivering croon.
“Suppression Street” brings us to an avenue that shall be as acquainted as Fascination Avenue or Respectable Avenue. With the poetic care and inventiveness typical of his work, Hawkline satirizes the day by day ritual of suppressing one’s heartache and pretending all is ok: “I buy my makeup on Suppression Street/I paint my face for everyone I meet/With the elegance of Nero.” Later, on the report’s tenderer second half, he lets the facade slip away, addressing his mom instantly on the plaintive “Like You Do”: “As the evening plays us out/And I want to let you know/All the ways I’ll need you.” Like grief itself, the tune is a one-sided dialog, by no means silenced, by no means resolved.