More than three years ago, I saw King Hannah for the first time. Way down on the bill, in a support slot at what, I later found out, was only their third ever gig. Mesmerised, I wrote a live review that termed them “real music for grown-ups”. Fast forward to just a couple of months ago, and they’d signed to the Berlin indie stalwart, City Slang (home of Anna Von Hauswolff, Arcade Fire, Lambchop, and more). That same day, they dropped their first video for the re-issued ‘Crème Brûlée’ and now comes their debut physical release, a six-track EP with a natty special coloured vinyl edition that comes in cream. Along with another video for second single ‘Meal Deal’, the EP’s release finds the band, whose music centres around lead singer Hannah Merrick and guitarist Craig Whittle, in form that’s as stunning as their live set from the days of Summer 2017.
Longer than some albums, calling Tell Me Your Mind And I’ll Tell You Mine an EP is a reflection of King Hannah’s capacity for understatement, with its two singles both more than six minutes, and understandably dominating the record. ‘Crème Brûlée’ is still the standout, for me, despite the band’s insistence that the song really is simply about how much Hannah likes the titular dessert. It seems likely to have been the song that most prompted the band’s comparisons to Mazzy Star, but there’s also a wry, detached sense of longing in the vocals’ laconic Nico-drawl. Much like the dessert itself, the song’s exterior shell is a thin covering over something far deeper – in this case, Hannah’s lyrics sit on top amongst its opening, but once they drop a little over halfway in, the layers of instrumentation spill out, led by a crooning, carousing, alt.country guitar line courtesy of Craig.
Either side of ‘Creme Brûlée’ are two tracks that demonstrate opposing sides of King Hannah’s take on the genre. The upbeat ‘Bill Tench’ finds Hannah musing on a possible future life in Paris, but veers more towards mature US alt.rock. There’s a sense of road journeys, with the feel of a car passing distant landscapes, in the taut lines of lead guitar, the acoustic giving pace, and the bass sketching out melodic rhythms. Perhaps the neatest trick of all is the way in which Hannah’s lingering, longing vocals make words rhyme, even when they have no business doing so.
Penultimate track, ‘The Sea Has Stretch Marks’, is a much sadder, slower number, with more lilting guitars and a semi-spoken section from which the EP takes its title. That being said, there’s a picture painted here too, with the song’s flow of guitars into and out of electronic reverb mimicking the waves of the sea in its title.
‘Meal Deal’, at some seven and a half minutes, is the more epic of the two singles, combining observational story-telling in its Courtney Barnett-esque lyrics with a sound that’s more reminiscent of The Handsome Family. Underpinned by low-slung bass, and led by twangy acoustic and electric guitar, it’s a song in three parts – which may give some explanation to the ‘sandwich, snack and a drink’ combo referenced by its title. Starting as a light-hearted tale of moving houses and spiders in the bath that need a feed, its meandering style comes to a more dramatic mid-point, at which Hannah’s vocals become doubled and echoey. “I can’t keep a secret”, she intones, as the guitar sounds grow more ominous, before an instrumental two minutes rounds out the track.
The remaining songs showcase the band’s ability to create atmosphere – opener ‘And Then Out of Nowhere It Rained’ commences the EP, with its sounds of rain and gently strummed guitar that build to something more broodingly oppressive, whilst Hannah’s voice rolls around the track. Closer ‘Reprise (Moving Day)’ embodies the post-rock tendencies that King Hannah flirt with throughout the EP, with a swirl of garbled recorded voice, thudding percussion and a deep bassy electronic sound, followed by a largely instrumental opening two minutes. It shifts style after that to a single strummed guitar and Hannah repeating the lines “Moving Day will come a little closer / I got some moving for you” before a feedback whine closes things out.
There was always something real about King Hannah. In the video for ‘Meal Deal’, Merrick stares at herself in the mirror, backstage at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, looking every inch the alt.rock star in the making, like the hybrid offspring of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. And, with a lead guitarist as gifted as Craig Whittle, steeped in the kind of musicianship that comes from growing up listening to Jackson Browne and Neil Young, she has the perfect foil. Already capable of producing the kind of songs that it takes most acts years to craft, King Hannah might just be about to tell the world what’s on their mind.
Tell Me Your Mind And I’ll Tell You Mine is out now via City Slang Records. And make sure you catch King Hannah taking over our Instagram this Wednesday, 25th November from 6pm!
Photo Credit: Lucy Mclachlan