Let Hannah Epperson transport you to the contrasting worlds of her characters, Amelia and Iris.
For me, one of the most interesting steps in making music is the process of arranging or producing a song. The boundaries between producing and songwriting are not always clear (see this article by fantastic Canadian lawyer/drummer Kurt Dahl) and that nebulous zone between producing and songwriting can have a large impact on how the song affects a listener. Does embracing a strict quantized approach towards time make things drive forward, or seem rigid and inhuman? Should the lyric “she’s a fucking risk taker” consume the air in the room before a synth explosion, or should the lyric be slowly and delicately weaved into a tapestry of arpeggiating violin?
Part of what makes Hannah Epperson’s Slowdown an engaging record is its acknowledgement of the differences between a song and the individual production and performances of that song. There are only five songs on the record but they each appear twice; once through the character Amelia and once through the character Iris. The Amelia versions are presented with a variety of otherworldly textures that range from ethereal to aggressive but generally lean towards a modern synth-pop sound. In contrast, the Iris arrangements only feature Epperson’s voice and layers of violin evoking a dreamy quality that wouldn’t seem out of place on a folk festival stage. The unifying element in both is a willingness to defy expectations and a neo-classical tilt towards exploratory compositions.
Before Slowdown, Epperson had already explored presenting somewhat contradictory readings of songs together on her album Upsweep which has many of the same stylistic markers such as embracing telling stories through her characters, Amelia and Iris. In my eyes the biggest difference between the two albums is that Upsweep presents the songs in the same order between Ameila and Iris’s half of the albums while Slowdown presents the songs in inverse order so the first and last songs are the same and the middle two songs are the same. Though the narrative arc to Upsweep is perhaps clearer, I preferred the listening experience in Slowdown as the songs smoothly unravelled – I was quite surprised when the album came to an end as I lost myself in each individual song.
Regardless of the character she is embodying, Epperson’s ability as a songwriter is enchanting. The metaphors filling the songs are descriptive and unique, and the words stripped of their meaning still sound beautiful on the tongue because of their creative consonance. In contrast with these beautiful sounding words, the meaning of the lyrics are rife with descriptions of darkness, ruin, secrets, and more words that could be considered unpleasant. Instead of this unpleasant meaning being imposed upon you, you are given the freedom to draw your own understanding of what Epperson presents to her audience. It truly moved me.
Whether Epperson is flexing her songwriting chops or her producing muscles, there is no doubt that she’s a fucking risk taker. The reward for her bifurcated risks are a deeply moving pair of records that serve as a testament to her versatility and ability. Wherever Hannah Epperson continues exploring, I will follow and listen.