Harriette Pilbeam – a.k.a. Hatchie – moves at the beat of her own drum. The Australian-born singer/songwriter has a knack for incorporating elements of old-school dream pop with more contemporary melodies. Her lyrics are captured through the glitz and glamour of shoegaze synths, and dreamy inflections. Miraculously, she does all of this without ever sounding too archaic.
Hatchie’s captivating style made waves throughout the industry after her Sugar & Spice EP from a year ago; a record that was as charming and charismatic as its title. The flashy aesthetic garnered much-deserved hype for her debut studio album, Keepsake. Not to mention, Hatchie’s longtime producer John Castle expressed desire in conquering newer, more diverse soundscapes (i.e. electronic, dream pop, rock, acoustic).
All of that is showcased on her freshman release; especially electronic. As expected, Pilbeam is meticulous within these songs, never allowing an underdeveloped theme to swallow the album as a whole. Her songwriting is poignant, ranging anywhere from introspective (“Her Own Heart”) to catchy (“Without a Blush”). Her voice often gets droned out by the fabulously lush instrumentation (something that is good and bad on this album).
The Australian clearly wears old-school influences on her sleeve (Sundays, Cocteau Twins), but with a twist in mind, mainly taken from newer acts (like Japanese House, Lana Del Rey, heck even One Republic). “Obsessed” features similar guitar progressions as any number of tracks on Snail Mail’s debut from a year ago. “Unwanted Guest” brings Hatchie’s laid back moniker to the chorus (“The party’s a drag, I’m over the bag/Just give it a rest, I’m an unwanted guest”); something Lana would most likely do.
The difference is a song like “Unwanted Guest” carries a tad more weight lyrically than a Lana ballad. Hatchie’s attitude shines because of her uncanny ability to dissect human emotion in an ephemeral manner. Sometimes her words and cadence come off as surreal, like on the refreshingly youthful “Kiss the Stars.” The track itself is bombastic in nature-almost like an old M83 gem (specifically from Hurry Up We’re Dreaming). Her lofty register is reminiscent of Beach House’s last album, a project that also has immense influence here. But the experience is just as delightful.
Thankfully, Hatchie’s influences operate solely as a blueprint for her own ideas. She’s simply using other musicians as a backbone. Castle dips into the acoustic guitar once more on “Obsessed,” giving the punk-inspired drum beat a much-needed layer. Pilbeam’s ultra-serious tone reckons a feel of loneliness that we all face, especially amongst the digital age. Humans can feel lonely for a variety of reasons, which is something widely expressed throughout Keepsake. The idea itself just adds more and more depth. Hatchie doesn’t want to be put in a box lyrically, and that’s shown sporadically here (It’s important to note that Hatchie has expressed annoyance when people think she just writes love songs). The possibilities with her are endless!
When Pilbeam does constrain herself, the album takes a deep dive. At times, Hatchie is found lost in her own music, specifically in the final third. Even her writing surprisingly loses steam on tracks like “Secret,” where millennial popcorn takes place of thoughtful perceptions. The whole ballad feels empty and generic in the scheme of things.
Hatchie unfortunately overstays her welcome by the final three songs. Recycled concepts and overly simplistic melodies plague “Stay With Me” and “When I Get Out.” Both of those cuts sound like drawn-out versions of “Obsessed” and “Unwanted Guest.” There’s also specific moments where Pilbeam’s vocal performance falls behind the production. As much as I love the prettiness of “Her Own Heart,” the dense guitar riffs and booming backbeat can be little too much for Hatchie’s softer intonation.
For the most part, the singer/songwriter does deliver a respectable output on Keepsake. Her songwriting, while repetitive at times, does fall a cut above the rest, especially in today’s pop landscape where shallowness and simplicity rules everything else. Her greatest moments are some of the best pieces of dream pop in recent years. Which is why the dullness of the final third is so frustrating. Hatchie is clearly one of the most talented pop artists out there; it’s just a matter of tightening up her concepts. Considering how experienced she is musically, a masterpiece could be on the horizon. For now though, she’s not quite there yet.