Though she maintains some reservations about the implications of something as abstract as identity, Charlie Hilton, known up until now for her work in the band Blouse, has now forged a new one with her debut solo album, Palana. The album’s title itself is a nod to Hilton’s given Sanskrit name, an identity she shed completely after high school in favor of the androgynous “Charlie,” and Palana‘s overarching theme can be summed up by a quote from Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, a phrase Hilton cites as a personal mantra: “Man is not by any means of fixed and enduring form…he is much more an experiment and a transition….”
Enlisting Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jacob Portrait as producer, Hilton freely experimented with diverse sounds and moods — some minimal and some cacophonous — out of the confines of a band structure. “Funny Anyway” is truly stark, featuring only string accompaniments, with Hilton assuming a role akin to a confessional French chanteuse, while “Let’s Go to a Party” is Hilton’s cheeky take on an icy dance track with thick, bouncing synths and a chorus that echoes “I’m only happy when I’m dancing.” Alternatively, tracks like “Pony” harken back to the psychedelic strengths of Blouse, saluting bands like Broadcast and United States of America, and then there’s “100 Million,” the sole track produced by Woods’ Jarvis Taveniere that rounds out the album in a soft, acoustic and light-hearted way with labelmate Mac DeMarco lending his talents on instrumentals and back-up vocals.
This wide range of moods on Palana recall several of Hilton’s key influences — the solemn beauty of Nico, the whimsical nature of Marc Bolan, and the naïveté of Jonathan Richman — but the album is undeniably the work of one artist, perhaps best summed up by the artist herself: “The music on this record is diverse, but so is the inside of a person. I feel like I’m many people.”
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