Secret Meeting score: 82
by Chris Hatch
After releasing one of the singles of 2017 – the synth-drenched, twelve-string fuzz pop of Sure – Hatchie continued in fine form on 2018’s Sugar & Spice EP. A year on, and the Brisbane-born musician has this week released debut album, Keepsake, which sees her settling into her already well-defined sound.
Previous releases have seen comparisons to the likes of Mazzy Star, Cocteau Twins, and Alvvays abound, and Keepsake largely follows in that same candy-floss filtered, scuzzy, dream pop way. With open chorded, lightly overdriven jangly guitars, and early-90s synths – Hatchie has a well established sound with which she only experiments sparingly… or so it initially seems.
Opening track, Not That Kind, is one that catches you slightly off guard – the soft, pillowy synths are still there, but are taken down a level or two. Its woody, Depeche Mode bassline, and latter-day New Order guitar hook result in it sounding like the most straight up indie guitar track on the album. For an opening to a debut album, it sounds more confident than it should have any right to.
The album has the trademark Hatchie sound of previous outings (and it’s high praise that so early on in her career she has such a recognisable style), but within that there is still a little room to play around – the hypnotic Without A Blush is a late-night, mid-80s track that is most easily compared to Chvrches, and third song Her Own Heart is a gentle, floaty, guitar-led slice of yearning balladry that could perhaps awkwardly be compared to Sixpence None The Richer.
Two of the strongest tracks on the album come back-to-back. Obsessed has a tight drum machine and glitchy, bubbling synth line add to the tension brought about by the lyrics’ illicit/unrequited love story, and Unwanted Guest is a Robert Palmer-esque synth-rock stomp that rounds off the first half of the album. Upfront power chords bolster a verse that builds into an expansive, Goldfrapp-style chorus, that eventually unfurls into a brilliant whirling, swirling sequencer speckled outro.
The second half of the album seems to lose a bit of intensity and takes on an almost dreamlike quality. Looser, airier production pushes the songs into more introspective territory. Secret is a song of two halves – as unmistakable chiming guitars kick in and find their way to an ending that sounds like My Bloody Valentine turned down a notch. Penultimate song, When I Get Out, finds Hatchie at her absolute best. It’s a fantastic cocktail of influences, yet somehow sounds so fresh and original. As well as the usual nods to early indie guitar pop, there’s more than hint of mid-90s Madonna in the vocal styling, and a confident, towering bassline lends the song a brilliant Britpop swagger.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Keepsake relies heavily on its influences – but those influences are so varied that it never feels lazy or derivative. It’s almost like a Greatest Hits of indie music from 1985-2000 – there really are elements of everything from bubblegum pop to industrial electronica – yet it feels greater than the sum of its parts. Initial listens were fun, but each play peels back another layer, and reveals another hidden melody- leaving you with the feeling that you’ve known these songs for years.
Keepsake is one of the most confident and fully formed debuts of recent years, yet still leaves a feeling that there is some untapped potential to be uncovered. Whether Hatchie spends the coming years further honing her pop hooks, or delving deeper into her music collection to create a more expansive sound, it’s hard not to feel that Keepsake is the perfect springboard from which to launch a long, fruitful career.