Awake But Always Dreaming is the second album from Hannah Peel as Hannah Peel.
As a founder member of The Magnetic North – with two albums under that collective belt – and with her alter ego Mary Casio, she’s had a busy and productive 2016, culminating with this.
The primary subject matter of Awake But Always Dreaming is memory, and it is informed by personal experience regarding her grandmother. Peel herself says:
I’ve read 1 in 3 of us will die with dementia, and a third of us are connected to someone with dementia through family and friends. 850,000 people in the UK alone have it now and 2 in 3 people affected will be women. It’s quite remarkable really, and it’s getting worse.
Opening Awake But Always Dreaming is a slice of perfect pop – All That Matters – which is also the first single from the album. Thematically straddling two areas, one of which is the need for love. Knowing the overarching theme of the album it can also be analogous to holding on to memories and feeling safe and secure in them.
With Peel’s silky smooth vocals, soaring strings, and endearing lyrics this would have been huge if, for example, Kyle Minogue had released it. Saying that, it also deserved to be huge in its own right.
Next up is Standing on the Roof of the World, a low tempo atmospheric track that loses the pre-eminence of the strings and replaces them with synths that create a soundscape interspersed with background beats and plucked strings. Al this creates an etherial feel. One is left with the impression of swimming through memories long forgotten, relishing the rediscovery of them.
Whilst the opening tracks share the overall theme they also demonstrate the two ways in which memory is explored. Hope Lasts and Don’t Take it Out On Me follow the pate laid by All That Matters. Others follow the more experimental tract of Standing on the Roof of the World.
Octavia features a synthesised two-note repetitive riff that seems to signal the loss of memory. When this is picked up and joined by Peel’s orchestration a fever pitch of panic ensues.
The album’s title track has a dichotomy between beat and rhythm that works within the context of the whole, while Foreverest successfully marries the two streams together in a near nine minute epic.
The final track of the album is Cars are in the Garden, which is a cover of Paul Buchanan (from The Blue Nile) and features Hayden Thorpe of Wild Beasts. Central to the track is Peel’s own music box, the use of which suggests searching for childhood memories.
With the talent that she has, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Peel has crafted an album of such scope and successfully too. The subject of memory is a complex one, and this complexity is utilised and harnessed throughout.
Quite simply, unforgettably stunning.
Awake But Always Dreaming by Hannah Peel is out now on My Own Pleasure.