Hazel English Gives Us the Pep Talk We Didn't Know We Needed on 'Wake UP!'
Published Apr 22, 2020Hazel English's debut album, Wake UP!, is a delightful triumph that incites self-discovery and love — it's like a soothing, sunbaked day by the pool with a thick book, and also like a rollicking party that forces your shoes off. But more than anything, it's about each and every single person listening to it.
English's sound is drenched in '60s iconography and inspired by the music of the Mamas and the Papas, the Zombies, and Jefferson Airplane. That being said, Wake UP! grapples with very present and prevalent issues surrounding authenticity and interpersonal relationships in face of social media. More than anything, the 10-track album is just the pop-rock pep talk we didn't know we needed.
Each track on this album is unique and will sweetly burrow itself into your mind, and this is due to English's deftness with hooks and melodies — "Five and Dime" is a prime example of her skill. My favourite track on the album is the deceptively disarming "Combat": soft as the sun setting, English's voice sounds different than elsewhere on the record. There's a feathery light aspect to it that is simultaneously sombre, hinting to the deep hurt in the lyrics.
English knows her voice and commands it wonderfully throughout the album. At some points it's atmospheric, while at others it pops caustically. Sometimes she reminds me of Françoise Hardy, and other times it's of Anna Karina, both vocalists who are able to transform their voices expertly.
"Like a Drug" is particularly delightful. In it, English sings in a way that cascades inevitably as a wave crests and crashes. "I just wanna play in my own way," she sings. The track is beautifully self-sufficient and empowering in the authentic and honest way it explodes gender roles in relationships.
This album has a message for you, evident in the title. When English was writing the album, French Marxist thinker Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was on her mind. If we've learned anything from Debord it's that it's easy to lose ourselves and our individuality through participation in mass-produced culture, and the album's title is a caps-locked reminder meant to knock us back into ourselves. Throughout the album, English either tells us outright to practice self-reflection and self-interrogation, or demonstrates this by example.
In our current circumstances — quarantined under a deadly global pandemic — self-reflection might be extremely difficult in face of our collective anxieties and loss of any kind of certainty we had. But this is where the album comes in — the bright sound, the bass that steadies breathing, the beachy guitar, and the light drums all in concert with English's beautiful voice are meant to balm and soothe the fear or nervousness we might feel as we look at the many screens surrounding us. She isn't asking us to eschew technology; she's asking us to be kinder to ourselves.
To think, to dance. To do whatever it takes to get a smile to your face. The command isn't to be irreverent, nor is she asking of us that we languor in a Lana Del Rey-esque sad-girl stupor. The brightness of this album is rather asking us to do what feels good. Whether it's through the optimism in "Work It Out," a track about trying to hold onto a crumbling relationship, or through the questions raised by "Wake UP!," which implores us to trust ourselves, she is showing us the work it takes to get better, to get more like ourselves.
The album pops with memories of a time we might not have been in, and English's words make you feel alive. It's the perfect soundtrack to the next few months that may feel like an eternity under COVID-19. (Polyvinyl)