Hazel English may hail from Australia (she was born in Sydney but has been in based in California for the last seven years) but her debut album Wake UP! is miles away from the new generation of Aussie artists who have broken through in the last couple of years.
Julia Jacklin and Stella Donnelly both introduced themselves last year with a pair of intensely personal and raw debuts, but English’s album is a more laid back, abstract affair. There are nods to Tame Impala, and especially Beach House – the same sort of dreamy haze is spread liberally over each track.
It means that Wake UP!’s charms may take a while to become fully transparent. English is certainly a talented songwriter, and the 10 tracks on her debut are all lovingly crafted, but the languid atmosphere means that they sometimes drift into each other.
Yet anyone familiar with English’s two EPs so far will notice a marked difference in the polished production. Born Like may not be the best track to open the album with – it’s not the most immediate of songs – but the following Shaking gives a far better impression of what English can do: a fuzzy, buzzy, pop gem boasting a chorus with a real rush to it. Tracks such as this are where English is at her best.
The breezy ’60s feel of Milk And Honey is another highlight, while Five And Dime is one of the best things on the album, a mid-tempo ballad which employs fingerclicks and multi-tracked backing vocals to create something rather special. The choppy guitar riff of the title track will worm itself into many a brain after a couple of listens, while Off My Mind hints at a darker edge than the sunny, laid-back production would suggest. It’s a sad description of a toxic relationship (“the way you’re treating me, I know it’s not okay, boy”) before English resolves to find a way out as “I don’t wanna let my life just pass me by”.
While much of Wake UP! sounds gorgeous – you could luxuriate in the lush sound of Combat as you would a warm bath, for example – it’s difficult to identify that mysterious ingredient which makes English stand out from the rest of the crowd. Maybe a bit more immediacy would help: it takes more than a few listens for this record’s charms to really get its hooks into you.
When it does though – on tracks like Shaking, Five & Dime and Combat – there’s enough to prove English as a real talent. Listening to Wake UP!, you get the feeling that, with a bit of added confidence and willingness to take a few more risks, English’s next album could be something pretty special.