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Paddy Hanna
The Hill Zara Hedderman , October 29th, 2020 09:06

The latest album from Dublin's Paddy Hanna is a unique, chameleonic delight, finds Zara Hedderman

“We lost ourselves on the Hill,” explains Paddy Hanna of his experience recording his masterful third solo record with his band in the summer of 2019. “As a listener,” the Dublin-based singer-songwriter continues, speaking directly to his audience, “I want you to take a seat inside my head, to smell the West Cork air, to feel the gravel under your feet.” Upon this intriguing invitation, it’s impossible not to be curious about the many paths Hanna could take us down on his latest offering.

At this point in Hanna’s career, he has firmly established himself as a songwriter with a propensity for wildly infectious hooks and choruses that burrow into your brain with no intention of leaving. The Hill, whilst sonically and tonally presenting a far more expansive and experimental body of work, is no different. Six years into his solo career, the arrangements seep into the listener’s psyche in a completely different way. He is comfortable in spacious arrangements, often allowing the instrumentation to develop at its own pace. In many regards, this experiential record is a fine example of Hanna’s prerogative as an eclectic songwriter, one of the finest of his generation.

Here, we have Hanna accompanied by his excellent band of Girl Band’s Dan Fox and Adam Faulkner with Daniel Fitzpatrick of Badhands completing the set, recorded in a way that sounds completely unique than previous records, 2017’s Frankly, I Mutate and his debut Leafy Stiletto. Forgoing certain instrumentation styles, notably sophisticated string accompaniments and big drum-filled rhythms, and replacing them with gorgeously textured swirling vocal harmonies and levitating synth parts, Hanna indulges his adventurous side. These tonal components are integral for adding depth to the ambitious cinematic arrangements, namely the impressively immersive opener ‘Last Of Their Kind’, a sweeping composition that instantly heralds the majesty of the late Ennio Morricone and his work for spaghetti westerns. As album openers go, few come close to matching its impact. An expansive and transportive piece of music, its breadth establishes an inexhaustible terrain within the listener’s imagination. One that does well to entice us out of the seat within the songwriter’s mind’s eye with a desire to roam free through the varied soundscapes. Amongst more conventionally composed tracks like ‘A Strange Request’ or ‘Nameless’ which heralds Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire, the album’s titular song supplies a callback to the opener. Bustling with clip-clop percussive motifs that make you feel as though you’ve navigated the LP on horseback.

The cinematic edge permeating the record through its instrumental arrangements sets the tone. The eleven songs take on new life as vividly descriptive vignettes with Hanna as our steadfast narrator. His performance throughout is thrilling. He is both captivating and charming, self-deprecating and consumed with worries that may never even come to exist. Despite the wonderful pageantry in the arrangements, from the electrifying ‘Sinatra’ which reveals a mysterious (and fictional) tale of Frank Sinatra meeting a fatal end from an altercation with a microscope or the playfully fun 1960s-like vocal harmonies bopping throughout ‘Colosseum’, Hanna does well to remain relatable to his listener by recounting mundane details of his habitual daily occurrences. In this regard, Hanna is one who can seamlessly slip between characters; one who conceals his identity behind a mask and another who wears his insecurities and vulnerabilities on his sleeve.

The Hill is an irresistible record; masterfully produced and unlike anything else released this year. Hanna is consistently successful in his inventiveness. The one thing that hasn’t changed is his excellent turn of phrase and sharp wit throughout his lyricism. This is best displayed on the diaristic ‘Jog On Shall We’. Here, Hanna contemplates his habits, environment and concerns. In between venturing to the local shops, passing by elderly neighbours (“Old Ms Cotter who used to peel an orange with an old butcher’s knife. Sometimes I thought she wanted me to be in the place of that orange”) his wry observations turn crest-fallen in tone. “Too many non-existent problems that don’t need a-fixing. Maybe turn your head to the possibly real,” he suggests before reaching the disheartening conclusion, “All my heroes are underachievers.”

An excellent release that continuously draws the listener back. The Hill is most certainly alive with the sound of Paddy Hanna’s extraordinary music.