Last year, Lomelda (aka Texas-born, L.A.-based singer/songwriter Hannah Read) released an out-of-the-blue album called M for Empathy. As its title suggests, the 11-song project explored empathy in all its forms through various sung stories and mini vignettes. But the album was lacking something—perhaps time: At only 16-minutes-long, it felt like we didn’t really receive the full scope of Read’s studies on the topic.
Thankfully, there’s Hannah, Read’s charming M for Empathy follow-up that arrived last week on Double Double Whammy. Where M for Empathy was shadowy and finicky at times, Hannah is more assured and robust (though it wouldn’t be “robust” compared to most other rock music today—Read’s voice is as hushed and restrained as ever). Hannah again finds Read thinking about empathy, compassion and human understanding. But this time, there’s more for the listener to unpack.
Single “Hannah Sun” is undoubtedly the record’s centerpiece. It’s a relaxed late-summer jam bristling with woodwinds and a brightness that’s hard to place but undeniably present. She floats through various locales (“my hometown,” “Chicago,” “Atlanta” and “Jersey,” to name a few) while reminiscing on the lessons learned through a particular relationship (“Glad you held me too, though I didn’t know how to be closer to you,” she sings) before addressing herself directly (“Hannah, do no harm”). Like so many painters and poets have done before her, Read creates a self-portrait in “Hannah Sun,” and it’s a dazzling thesis for this record.
Unfortunately, Hannah tends to wander from there, producing many bright moments (like the trembling indie folk on the positively lovely “Polyurethane,” the wavy, searching “It’s Infinite” and the busy and textured “Sing for Stranger”) alongside many forgettable ones. Hannah is at its best when it’s at its biggest. The explosive guitar riffs on instrumental number “Both Mode” instill a kind of fuzzy chaos that’s currently popular among indie artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Big Thief, proving that, despite her instincts to sing and play softly, atmospheric rock music is still within Read’s reach. “Wonder” is a confident and repetitive soft-rock anthem that would absolutely crush in a live setting. The relaxed “Hannah Happiest” finds Read assessing her own mental health to the tune of soft guitar strums.
Hannah frequently finds a happy medium between the introspective plucking Read is known for and a new kind of blissed-out soft rock. “Tommy Dread” fits that description, as Read prophesizes her own tendencies to emphasize with others: “Wonder won’t let up.” she sings. “But dread ain’t such a bad line / I’ll be back, we’ll be big, be kind.” Elsewhere, album opener “Kisses” is an absolutely gorgeous piano/guitar ballad that retells the story of a first romantic encounter. The more vague moments on the album appear in songs like “It’s Lomelda” and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “Big Shot,” in which Read is dragging her metaphorical feet a bit. Her only downfall (or, maybe in others’ eyes, one of her best defining characteristics) is her distinct mumble. It can be difficult to understand what she’s singing, and any time the sonics start to feel sleepy, she risks losing her listener.
But, despite any of its mopier moments, Hannah is another solid piece of output from a dedicated and thoughtful lyricist. Read recorded this album three different times before settling on its final name and form. So, there’s nothing happenstance about these 14 songs or the stories within them. Read is an intentional musician who expertly chooses small moments with which to convey big ideas. What remains is a kind of peace and a new understanding not only of herself, but also of the people and feelings around her.
Ellen Johnson is an associate music editor, writer, playlist maker, coffee drinker and pop culture enthusiast at Paste. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson and re-watching Little Women on Letterboxd.
Watch Lomelda’s 2018 Paste Studio session: