Hatchie Sugar & Spice
Published May 25, 2018It's hard to believe Harriett Pillbeam was sitting on most of the songs that make up her debut EP for several years. So sticky-sweet are the melodies on each of these five tracks, you'd swear they were the product of some dream-pop songwriting algorithm rather than the bedroom musings of an Australian musician suffering through typical mid-20s professional and romantic ennui.
Pillbeam had honed her musical chops in a number of bands, including Babaganouj and Go Violets, both of whom similarly mined '90s alt-rock niches, updating them for the 21st century. Yet neither properly captured Pillbeam's true voice.
Hatchie, however, does. You can tick off a number of dream-pop heavyweights as influences here: Lush and Cocteau Twins, whose Robin Guthrie remixed "Sure," immediately come to mind. But Pillbeam makes the sound her own, putting heavy emphasis on the pop side of things via a brilliant synth sheen. Yet it's her ability to wring emotional drama out of rote subject matter that makes these songs so special.
"Try," the first song she snuck onto the internet, remains the highlight — an instrumental bit that precedes the second chorus is worth the price of admission alone. But the remaining songs certainly match its effortless charm. On "Sure" the singer-bass player is feeling powerless as a relationship dissolves before her eyes, her sense of helplessness underscored by the unfinished thought "And if it's never really over…" that punctuates the chorus.
Closer "Bad Guy" though is the sleeper pick. Musically it recalls late '80s Cure, but its lyrics, which follows a protagonist who pushes the object of their affection for a deeper commitment only to have them pull away, looks at the scene from dual perspectives, asking who the bad guy was in this situation when both parties were try to their feelings. The lyrics and their delivery feel ripped straight from the Taylor Swift songbook; the song itself could easily fit onto either of the pop stars last two albums.
Does Pillbeam have more gems sitting on a hard drive somewhere? Can she match the high bar set by these early compositions with the public eye now set firmly on her? Time will tell, but at least this once, she managed to capture lightning in a bottle. (Double Double Whammy)