Weekly 40-Watt #8: Hatchie's 'Sugar & Spice'

Weekly 40-Watt is a feature where I listen to an album or band, new or old, for the first time and jot down some notes on it.

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A bit of a shorter Weekly 40-Watt this week. Last year I got into Hatchie’s five-song EP, Sugar & Spice, the first release from the Australian bassist and singer/songwriter. Since Hatchie just announced her debut LP with a new track, I wanted to jot down some notes about why her first five songs have impressed me so much.

There is a quality to some really great songs that makes them feel as though they’ve always existed. They sound like they have always been there, they were there when you were born and they’re there now and they’re always going to be there. You’ve always known the melody, it’s always gotten stuck in your head, you knew it with the first breath you took.

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I got this impression from “Sure” the first time I heard it, feeling like it was a song that clearly could have been a smash in the ‘90s but with a truly timeless appeal. The opening track from Sugar & Spice really hits its stride when Harriette Pilbeam starts singing, wrapping you up in its hazy, cloudy arms. It’s an enveloping song with a simple pop melody and a viciously catchy hook. (And I later realized that its timeless nature could be accredited to the intro melody’s similarity to an actual hit from the ‘90s — “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer.)

“Try” is the standout from Sugar & Spice and it’s the go-to track to introduce yourself to Hatchie. It’s the best version of the general structure here — verses that might lull you to sleep on their own, bouncing off choruses that keep you awake well past your bedtime with their hooks. On this chorus she sings, “Yeah, I know you wanna try / I can feel it in your sigh,” and its in the simplicity of her songwriting where Pilbeam is strongest. She never tries to do too much, but pieces together a really wonderful aesthetic when you take the step back to appreciate the full picture.

Sugar & Spice closes with the most intimate song on the EP from a sonic perspective. “Bad Guy” starts with a little musical refrain that may or may not be a distant cousin of the melody on Five for Fighting’s “Superman,” then builds into Hatchie’s closest resemblance to a more straightforward singer-songwriter track. Her vocals are more forward here, a bit less breathy, and it’s this song that makes me look forward to Hatchie’s full-length. Sugar & Spice is just the right amount of this type of dreamy pop for me, but if Hatchie finds her way into something that feels like it’s orbiting a bit closer to sea level, it could provide a really nice balance throughout the course of a full LP. A stripped-down Stereogum session lends some encouragement to this thought.

This EP really impressed me last year and was a record I revisited with regularity. For a first effort, it feels remarkably established, like an artist who knew exactly what she wanted to offer. It picks its spots to shine and manages to make its mark in only 20 minutes — although, to be fair, “Try” by itself is enough to make you want more. And as far as simple love songs go, Hatchie finds a good lyrical middle ground to stand on; with the musicianship so dreamy on its own, it helps that the lyrics aren’t quite as in-the-clouds themselves.

The new track from the forthcoming Keepsake, “Without A Blush,” seems like it could be indicative of a slightly new flavor for the full-length. Pilbeam still hits the high notes during the chorus (“If I could kiss you one more time/ Would it make everything alright?”), only this time she’s accompanied by a decidedly more moody backdrop. We’re still in a ‘90s-tinged pop landscape, but that dense, bassy, overcast reverb provides a different presence — something just a tinge more devilish behind the heavenly vocals.

At three minutes in, a musical bridge with some thump to it stretches out before being joined by misty “aaaahhhhh”s and a really nice payoff with a back-to-back chorus after that. It’s easy to want that musical bridge to continue stretching out, finding even more of its bass and hitting a different groove on its own, but perhaps it’s Hatchie’s restraint that will serve as a hallmark for continued success.