Music

Caleb Hawley Gets Mournfully Symphonic on "Playing House" (premiere)

Photo courtesy of the artist

Caleb Hawley's "Playing House" is a poignant ballad that's sure to resonate with every listener.

For roughly a decade, New York-based musician Caleb Hawley has been delighting listeners with his self-described "androgynous" vocals, sardonically murky lyricism (about both his own struggles and society at large), and gorgeous musicality (that spans pop, soul, R&B, '80s dance rock, and singer/songwriter, among other styles). Having played over a thousand live shows, Hawley has certainly earned his reputation as a shining solo artist. On his latest single, "Playing House" (from his upcoming album, due to be released later this year), he further validates that recognition by delivering a mournful and symphonic ballad alongside singer Joanna Teters (Mad Satta, Lowtone Society, Drew of the Drew).

Hawley elucidates the inspiration for "Playing House" as follows: "When I was a kid, I remember playing this game called 'house'. I might have dressed myself in my dad's best suit, married my next door neighbor, and draped a few sheets over some chairs to make a home where we could live happily ever after—at least until the doorbell rang and she had to go back to her actual home. I think a lot of people bring this fantasy into adulthood as well, pretending to have their relationships all worked out while denying the hardships. Sometimes it feels like no matter the age; we're all just playing house. I wrote this song a few years back, intending it as a duet. I was honored to have Joanna Teters join me on this; she has one of my favorite voices on the planet."

Right away, the piece's cautious blend of forlorn strings and piano chords is emotionally engulfing, and Hawley's high-pitched and slightly raspy outcries oscillate between fragile trepidation and outspoken angst. In this way, he channels the unrestrained sincerity of artists like Adele, Lady Gaga, and Andrew McMahon as the instrumentation beautifully adapts to his fluctuating intensity. Of course, Teters' timbre complements Hawley's with faint but substantial heft (which isn't surprising since they already established a serene duality on prior team-ups). From beginning to end, the song is mesmerizingly poised and impassioned.

Take a listen to "Playing House" above and let us know how it affects you. Also, you can catch Hawley, Joanna Teters, and Lohai at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on 9 May.

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