Charlie Hilton - Palana

by Jim Harris Rating:7 Release Date:2016-01-22

While Seattle was once the grunge capital of the world in the late 80s and early 90s, the little city just south called Portland has some strong musical roots as well: The Decemberists, Dandy Warhols. And the last Blouse album, featuring Charlie Hilton and Patrick Adams, sounding like Nico fronting Lush, did the city of flannel-shirted art majors and cheap beer proud. Now lead singer Hilton has a new solo album out on Captured Tracks, that is filled with lazy, nuanced songs that leave her voice without a safety net of dream-pop layers that made Blouse so pleasant to listen to.

For the most part Palana, works. Being an art major and all, Charlie Hilton’s lyrics are introspective and dark at their best and a bit too precious and bad college poetry reading at their worst ("He’s so nonfictional…").

Musically, it is almost a tale of two EPs, with the music being a bit richer at the beginning on such songs as the title track on through to the most musically interesting track, ‘Let’s Go to a Party.’ On this latter song, she sings in her Nico-like voice, about dancing for someone, and the music is the only tune to reach up-tempo.  (I recall the first time I heard Nico and thought she sounded like Marlene Dietrich singing ‘Amidst the Ruins of Berlin.’)  Anyway, most of the songs, even as Ms. Hilton’s inflected, rise and fall, deadpan cadence takes front and center,  are engaging and, while not anywhere near as interesting as her work with Blouse, still have her carrying a tune, so to speak.

The flip side to that is there a few too many Mac DeMarco-influenced slacker, bedroom lofi songs, especially the latter 4 songs, and if you are enamored of this sound, Charlie Hilton, might strike you brilliantly as a feminine alternative to Mac DeMarco.  And the strongest track is indeed her duet with Mac DeMarco, ‘100 Million.’ 

But Charlie Hilton, on this her solo album, should not quit her day band.  Blouse, with the rich layers of guitars and synths and such, have a special chemistry that her voice compliments and is a bit lost in this more minimal approach, where her voice seems a bit too up front, and the music a bit too unformed.  But still a solid effort if you are a fan of her voice and delivery.

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