M for Empathy (2019) — Lomelda; released on Double Double Whammy Records
As Lomelda, Hannah Read makes emotional music with the recognition that words often fail to convey the most important emotions in our lives. The title of her latest record, M for Empathy, highlights this interest in “empathy” and how we discuss our feelings, focusing especially on how the mundane can blend together every minute with the meaningful. Accompanying this exploration is a small range of mostly acoustic instruments — guitars, upright piano, the ineffable vox of Hannah Read — that are often mic’d up as close as possible, giving the listener a heightened sense of nearness. On tracks like “Bunk,” this nearness provides you with a front-row seat to the intensely private events and emotions that Hannah depicts.
The criticism I often hear made about the latest record, compared to Lomelda’s previous releases, is that the songs seem underdeveloped, often ending prematurely. On the contrary, the tracks on M for Empathy excel at gripping the listener tightly, opening a window into Hannah Read’s emotional domain, then shutting it soon after, as a sort of reminder that true empathy is impossible. The tracks on 2017’s Thx strive for a lush sense of atmosphere in which the listener can luxuriate, at times reaching cathartic heights like on the stunning “Bam Sha Klam.” This latest record digs much deeper into the realm of everyday emotions, employing the kind of wonderfully makeshift phrases that pass in and out of consciousness with a flicker — must make myself a mold; salty for her tongue; how many more rememberings....
On “Slide,” Hannah gives a heart-rending account of a near-suicide that was prevented by the buzz of a cell-phone, a friend reaching out. Yet, the storytelling on this track isn’t at all ballad-like. It doesn’t focus on events, but rather on the volatile feelings that Hannah experiences as she drives to a hotel and rethinks everything leading up to this point, the mistakes of the past constantly encroaching on her psyche in the present. As she narrates this sudden end to the episode, the instrumental swells, her voice doubles the eerie synth line, and the song ends in a decidedly major-key fashion. As the listener, we’ll never know how Hannah felt in that moment, but listening and understanding is the closest we can come to empathizing with her.
On the album’s closing track, its briefest, Hannah Read croons about the wistful, emotionally-charged, even prurient thoughts that overtake you while going about your daily tasks. Her tender plucks of the guitar mirror the album’s opening moments, and you almost forget the stirring intensity of earlier tracks like the album’s centerpiece “M for Magic,” with its sweeping strums and warbling harmonies. The last thing we hear is an airy three-note chord in stereo that quickly evaporates into nothing, capping the album’s 16-minute runtime and ending fittingly on a track that conveys such an ordinary feeling: the feeling of being lost in your thoughts, at once in your own past, present, and future, but free to feel however you want to feel.