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Opaque red vinyl.
There is a moment halfway through Hand Habits’ Fun Houseat which musician Meg Duffy asks the question, “How many times must I rewind the tape?”It’s a fitting question planted squarely in the middle of a sonically adventurous record concerned largely with making sense and taking stock. How much time must we spend examining our own past in order to fully understand it? How can we safely acknowledge pain in order to release it and fully actualize who we are supposed to be? Buffeted by strings, synths, and a gently-shook tambourine, the aptly-titled track, “The Answer,” highlights the emotional engine at the heart of the record. “I know the answer,”Duffy sings, “Here’s what I hope to find - it’s always mine.”
Fun House is Duffy’s most ambitious Hand Habits album to date. Produced by Sasami Ashworth (SASAMI) and engineered by Kyle Thomas (King Tuff), the record was not intended as a reaction to the pandemic, but it was very much the result of taking a difficult, if much-needed, moment of pause. “When the pandemic happened, everything stopped,” recalls Duffy. “I had been touring consistently for five years, both on my own and playing in other people’s bands, so I wasn’t really writing a lot in between. It had been full pedal to the metal in terms of traveling and scheduling, which meant I really didn’t have a lot of time to think about how I felt or really check in with myself. Then, when the world basically stopped, it turned out to be the longest I’ve been alone in my entire life — without being in a relationship, without being on the road, without working myself to exhaustion — and the result was really like, holy shit. I slammed on the brakes and everything psychologically that I’d been pushing down and ignoring for the past few years suddenly flew to the foreground.”
What started out as a very personal reckoning eventually blossomed into a fruitful and convenient means of making new music. Grounded in LA and sharing a house with Ashworth and Thomas, who also runs a studio space in the building, Duffy began to flesh out the songs that would eventually become Fun House. Embold-ened by going into therapy and coaxed by Ashworth to push the songs into unexpected new shapes, the resulting music was more acutely personal and stylistically adventurous than anything they had attempted before. The new songs also became a prism through which Duffy could begin to self-actualize in a new way.
While Fun Houseshares some of the same hallmarks as previous Hand Habits releases —a kind of outré queer sensibility, a gentle sense of vulnerability — the record is a marked sonic departure from the often muted tones of 2019’s Placeholder and 2017’s Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void). Instead, the tracks on Fun Housesparkle, moving in unexpected directions and eschewing any specific genre. Tracks like “Aquamarine” and “More than Love” package narratives about loss, romantic longing, and childhood trauma inside polished synth pop (“Suicide / Lost a life / Well then who am I? / Why can’t you talk about it?”) while “Gold Rust” and “Concrete and Feathers” have a ragged, Neil Young quality. Friend and collaborator Mike Hadreas (of Perfume Genius) contributes vocals on “No Difference” and “Just to Hear You,” making for one of the record’s most sanguine moments, his voice providing a perfect counterpoint to Duffy. The push/pull of styles, paired with songs that move deftly between the present and past, give the record a wildly diverse, hall of mirrors quality that befits its name. Where previous Hand Habits records could be fairly insular affairs, both in their creation and their execution, Fun Housefeels ebullient, lush, a fully-realized conversation.