The Lowdown: Keepsake marks the first full-length solo release for Hatchie, the Australian singer-songwriter who last year captured attention with her debut EP, Sugar & Spice. But this is far from the beginning for Hatchie (otherwise known as Harriette Pilbeam), who is also the longtime and founding bassist for indie rock band Babaganouj. In Keepsake, she continues somewhat along the same lush, romance-tinged vein of Sugar & Spice, but expands upon a lot of her earlier dream pop and shoegaze conceits and grows them into more fully fledged and, at times, troubled concepts in both production and narrative trajectory. Songs like lead single “Without a Blush” and “Her Own Heart” channel luscious, dreamy ’80s vibes while “Obsessed” and “Unwanted Guest” flash glimpses into the darker side of this environment. All in all, it’s a fitting and developed record-length introduction to the best of what dream pop can do in capable hands.
The Good: Hatchie has a compelling way of asserting herself through her chords, intros, and backing melodies. Wherever she can, she lifts the production up with persistent synth rhythms and ballooning (but never over-the-top) instrumentation. None of it is filler or cushion; it’s the foundational material upon which each track stands up, as it should be. One of the best examples of this is “Unwanted Guest”, which catches the listener’s attention straight away with a few sleek, direct chords and then launches into an otherworldly collection of cycling rhythm and melody that propels the mood of the second half of the album into an even more developed direction. It’s in this regard that many of the points Hatchie earns on Keepsake, and there are a lot, come from atmosphere. Tracks like the masterful “Secret”, which starts off understated before blossoming a little over halfway through, come across like well-formed communications of moods and states of mind. Throughout the entire album, Hatchie’s airy voice is there to anchor it all, aptly hypnotic and spellbinding for the album’s ambitions.
The Bad: As masterfully as the songs on Keepsake capture their respective tones and atmospheres, there are times when the lyrics that punctuate these tracks can feel less impactful by comparison. Jumpy opener “Not That Kind”, for instance, is beautifully catchy, but compared to the music buoying them up, some of the words themselves feel more familiar against a broader pop landscape (“I gave you what you wanted/ And you threw it away/ You threw it away/ Thought we could make it by the morning/ But you were gone without trace”). This isn’t true across the entire scope of the album, of course; perhaps the most vivid and inventive lyricism comes on “Kiss the Stars” and closer “Keep” (“You keep your cool, any color /I’d be a fool for any other”).
The Verdict: Many moments on Keepsake evoke a sense of journeying; on “Her Own Heart”, Hatchie sings about a girl running into a cloudy, new life after a breakup without looking back (“New town for a while/ Who would have thought it’d take 10,000 miles”). But none of the travel that happens throughout Keepsake happens for its own sake; as she reminds us on “When I Get Out”, “I’m not a wanderer.” The industrial and atmospheric elements of the album all convey a sense of searching and often of rushing away from one thing and toward another. Even the blurred cover image of Hatchie suggests a feeling of constantly being in motion. It is through this searching and continual movement that Hatchie etches her own lines to define her persona through her music, constantly propelling herself and her ideas in new directions and trusting that we’ll keep up. If there’s one thing she’s made clear by the closing of the album, it’s that only she can tell where she’s going to go next.
Essential Tracks: “Without a Blush”, “Unwanted Guest”, and “When I Get Out”