Hannah Peel has an impressive knack of projecting the enchanted and the mysterious. Her debut solo album from 2011 and especially her 2014 four-track EP Fabricstate managed this particularly well: the latter pulling together layers of analogue-sounding synth, astral-like vocal alongside deep, heavy beats to create something warm, dreamlike and poignant. Indeed, EP track Chloe was a particular stand-out and even managed to get a Royal Television Society Award after featuring on the Channel 4 drama series Dates.
Central to her sound, though, is her delicate-looking music box, which travels with her and has long spools of meticulously hand-punched strips of paper fed through it that eventually – and rather theatrically – fall to the ground. Indeed, seeing her live has always been something of an otherworldly experience, with her recent stint supporting East India Youth again allowing her to showcase her talent for creating a live experience with a deeply ethereal, atmospheric feel.
There’s actually an East India Youth presence on Rebox 2, which follows her first music box EP from 2010 that includes covers of Cocteau Twins, New Order and Soft Cell. Here, Rebox 2 features covers produced over the last two years or so alongside instrumentals written by Peel and co-producer Erland Cooper, who both appear in the highly successful The Magnetic North alongside The Verve and Gorillaz‘s Simon Tong (Cooper and Tong also feature in prog-folk band Erland & The Carnival).
Opening with Perfume Genius‘ Queen, Peel’s vocal brings Mike Hadreas’ lyrics more to the fore, which veer from recounting homophobic insults (“cracked, peeling, riddled with disease”) to something more defiant (“no family is safe when I sashay”). Peel’s version isn’t as melodramatic as the original; rather, she brings a welcome subtlety that with it arguably makes it more real and heartfelt thanks to the music box and characteristically tender sounding beats and synth. Here, the impassioned tone of the original is replaced with something that feels deeper, sincere and nuanced. That’s not to discredit the original of course – the raw energy and tension of Hadreas is what makes Queen such an absorbing listen – but Peel brings another face to it.
On John Grant‘s Pale Green Ghosts, Peel said that Grant was “recalling his own adolescent enthusiasm for electronic pioneers such as Cabaret Voltaire…”. Here, the music box takes the place of the pulsating beats from Grant’s original and instead becomes sparse, with sampled layered vocals and echoic, almost tribal sounding percussion and the odd jangling loop. Again, Peel manages to bring an added depth to the song; lyrics like “Back then I often found myself driving on the road at night” fit perfectly with the isolated, almost apparitional atmosphere created. Indeed, the eerie detached feel presents someone alone, with their thoughts and fears, trying to find a sense of belonging and purpose. Yet from there, it skilfully links into piano-based instrumental Reverie, which from the somewhat unearthly brings with it a degree of shimmer and light.
Following this is a cover of Wild Beasts‘ Palace, featuring just Peel and her music box, with the latter helping to create a hypnotic, intimate, almost minimalist feel. This minimalist sense continues with instrumental Premonition, which has something wonderfully space-age about it – almost to the point you can imagine hearing it on Space Station V from 2001: A Space Odyssey – before the cover of East India Youth’s Heaven, How Long from 2014’s Total Strife Forever brings things to an emotive and heartfelt conclusion through its affecting and measured use of strings and signified by the clicking of an off-switch.
Peel is currently putting the finishing touches to her next album, entitled Awake But Always Dreaming. Judging from the title, we can expect more of the same music box-driven dreaminess to follow. Here is such an imaginative talent that, you feel, must surely be on the cusp of something marvellous.