Meg Duffy – a.k.a. Hand Habits – delivers a beautiful and crushing portrayal of life’s many dualities on their emotive new album, ‘Fun House’.
From the day Meg Duffy shared pinky demos EP, a crushing intimacy has characterized every Hand Habits‘ output to date. Whether on albums (e.g., the superb debut LP, 2017’s “Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void), and 2019’s follow-up, placeholder ), EPs (e.g., Dirt), or one-off singles (e.g., “4th of July”), Duffy has time and time again created art that is crippling in its effect yet beautiful to behold. And Fun House is no different.
To reach the stirring emotions of their previous releases, Duffy deploys a variety of techniques and enlists the support of some of indie’s finest. The result is in an album that is familiar in its effect, yet the approach is much more expansive. Opener “More Than Love” reveals Duffy going widescreen, delivering a slow-burning rocker á la The War on Drugs. While the song reaches a point of rapturous awe, pain seeps into Duffy’s stunning voice. “I needed more than that / I still do”, they recall the moment when they realize a relationship is about to end. The folk-rocker “Concrete & Feathers” builds on “More Than Love’s” theme and approach, as a sturdy guitar leads the way for Duffy to narrate the end of one love affair and the start of another.
Duffy dials up the edge on the gritty “Gold/Rust”, on which producer and fellow singer-songwriter Sasami Ashworth’s influence can be heard. While the song’s beginning is calm, an uneasiness brims below the service. Eventually, the dam bursts, as grizzled guitars and throbbing percussion overwhelm the track at its zenith. It is a startling moment that brilliantly captures one person’s long slumber from reality.
“Aquamarine” further reveals Duffy going out of their comfort zone. Cold wave rhythms mix through a dreamy synth-pop arrangement, yielding a number that is equally made for the dance floor or idling away the day. Duffy’s lyrics, however, are anything but joyful. They share memories from their past, including a tragic death, being tossed out of their home, and sharing their identity.
“Why can’t you talk about it?
I got used to being on the other side of truth
Maybe it’s too painful and that’s why you’re so unable
A little bit of her inside”
For all the instances where Duffy reveals another side to their craft, most of the album is founded on what Duffy does best – elicit emotions and evoke images through intimacy. With Mike Hadreas (a.k.a. Perfume Genius) sharing the mic on “Just to Hear You”, Duffy shares a graceful ballad of sudden independence. While on “Clean Air”, they share a heartbreaker like no other. Through the gorgeous folk-rock arrangement, Duffy beautifully yet with painstaking emotion describes the conflict that eats away at their heart. They desire to stay with another yet cannot continue to ask them to make sacrifices. Nor can Duffy do the same.
One bearing fruit, one shedding leaves
And we get so caught up
In the metaphor the plot is lost
Don’t think I forgot
About all the lines you draw, then beg me to cross
(That you beg me to cross)
And I can’t keep holding on”
Throughout Duffy’s near decade existence as a singer-songwriter, identity has been a key issue in their music. On the stunning folk-rock number, “No Differences”, Duffy delivers an immersive and intricate portrait of one’s duality. Delicate guitar chords and feathery rhythms fill this embracing number. Through them, Duffy’s whispery vocal explains how they’ve struggled to become who they are today.
“I could never hear her, no matter how loud
Screaming- I’ll always be the anchor you drag around
Oh oh oh
Well it’s too late now
Too many times we drowned”
This theme is further accentuated on the emotive “Graves”. With just a lovely piano and Ashworth on backing vocal supporting Duffy’s delicately finger-plucked guitar and vulnerable voice, the song is a master class in simplicity. The light soundscape is breathtaking, but Duffy’s voice carries the song, stirring emotions with gentle textures while their lyrics crush souls. Their words are reminders to not give into sadness and to hold on to every memory while still living to create new ones:
“And is that how it ends?
Throwing stones to the wind
It’s a spark of the deadliest sin
How can you separate the blood from within?”
Duffy leaves their best advice on “Control”. Restrained in its approach like the great folk songs of the ’70s, the track cautions on moving too quickly. “What you need is what you have / She reminds me that I still need time / That it’s all gotta change / That it’s all behind me now”, Duffy says to themself. And patience has been a virtue that they’ve long practiced personally and artistically, where the journey itself is the great reward. And for those who take the time to immerse themselves in Fun House, they will be rewarded with one of the most striking and moving albums of the year.
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