Hand Habits – Placeholder review

Secret Meeting score: 76

by Philip Moss

Melancholic, soft rock is all the rage at the moment. On sophomore album, Meg Duffy aka Hand Habits has returned with a record that falls firmly into this category, but it is more muscular than 2017 debut, Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void).

Album opener, placeholder, is clearly influenced by Big Thief. Like Adrianne Lenker’s best work, the song’s content is inspired by experience. But Duffy’s poetic voice meanders more ambiguously in terms of its origins. The backing track, too, is in debt to the Brooklyn rooted four piece, before a gorgeously emotive middle eight guitar part shows her astute ear for the finding the right musical colours. Lead single, can’t calm down, is equally vague as it revisits adolescence via lovely melody, but there is genuine confusion in the reflections – ‘Bring me back to my old house, I want to see the tree that I used to climb / Back when I was small, I don’t want to be there.’ 

Different to her debut, which was recorded at home, Duffy travelled to Wisconsin to record placeholder with Brad Cook at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios. But such is the songwriting that Cook’s production is subtle. In fact, only the glitchy algorithm of heat – a one minute, repetitive interlude at the record’s heart – strays away from the guitar based palette which makes up the LP. However, this does hint towards Duffy’s possible desire to experiment, and does pose questions as to future directions.

what lovers do is also a highlight, but the undoubted jewel in the crown is a re-recording of an earlier one off single, yr heart (reprise), which is slower and more considered than its previous carnation. Not everything here is to the same high standard – looser cuts such as wildfire and are you serious? are rather feeble and generic. But, on the whole, placeholder sees Meg Duffy growing into an individual voice, and the new long player is a very welcome addition to a burgeoning scene.

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