Hannah in the Wars: Hannah in the Wars (99X-10/Aeroplane)

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Hannah in the Wars: Sweet Release
Hannah in the Wars: Hannah in the Wars (99X-10/Aeroplane)

Get past the usefully scene setting but irritatingly repetitious opener here (Burning Through the Night where Hannah Curwood's voice becomes more shrill and annoying than desperate as seems the intention) and a very interesting album reveals itself.

Curwood from Central Otago is now based in London and caught the ear of the Cure's keyboard player Roger O'Donnell who produced this frequently minor chord and brooding collection at his home studio. 

Augmented by cello, synths, piano, layered backing vocals and gritty guitars, these songs of discomfort and uneasy emotional states -- sometimes delivered with audible exhalations and sighs -- signal a serious talent emerging, even if this isn't going to be her defining statement.

She has the moods, the lyrics and the emotions . . . but too often her vocals don't have the requisite gravitas, power or hurt which her words imply.

That said, there are some terrific arrangements and musical settings here which bring these songs, and by association her voice, home: The Hunter is a seriously deep moodpiece just waiting for the soundtrack on which it can be (although maybe with a more driven delivery) and Only Wanna Be has an obliquely Celtic folk-pop quality in flattened Kiwi vowels; 

She also isn't averse to embracing the pop sensibility which drove Kate Bush, Pauline Murray and Polly Harvey: Sweet Release, and the surroundsound backing vocals and drive of Rearview Mirror which perhaps unconsciously alludes to Middle Eastern sounds); the funereal Infidel comes along on dark Roy Orbison/Twin Peaks/early Cowboy Junkies chords and moody melancholy . . .

There are however some very flat songs and small ideas writ large here however, notably the wobby and melodramatic Watch the Dog Grow Old Together only survives because of the musical setting. 

Although lyrical repetition seems to be her signature style here it only works in a few places, mostly on the brief but engagingly ethereal Lay Your Hands where the vocals and setting complement each other perfectly.

And Dark Summer Dawn right at the end takes off in a very different but possibly profitable direction of off-kilter folk with one her most convincingly widescreen if minimalist vocals.

You get the sense that once Hannah Curwood gets the road miles up with a live band she will truly be a force to be reckoned with.

But right now we are catching her as she embarks on that upward trajectory and still in the process of finding her voice (metaphorically and literally) so we might be wise to not overstate this collection.

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