Given the sheer abundance of bedroom pop released in recent years, one may find themselves skeptical of young, DIY artists. Cynics may claim labels like ‘lo-fi’ do more to disguise an artist’s amateurishness than provide a fitting musical description. It is refreshing, then, to hear an artist that has successfully honed their craft and attuned their sound from within their bedroom. Following the release her debut EP How Many Times Have You Driven By last year, Hana Vu returns with a second (and third) release in the form of double EP Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway. Self-produced (bar the addition of a sound engineer to aid the mixing process), the curiously titled, but well-polished, EP sits as a stark reminder that a teenager’s bedroom can be one of the most exciting music studios.
Rooted in indie dream pop, soft synth pads and subtly distorted guitars abound across the EP. Standout track “Insider” boasts lush arrangements of synth and wind pads, poignant vocal harmonies, and restrained percussion to create a dreamlike entanglement that is as melancholic as it is dreamy. Similarly, “Outside” rests on languorous but catchy vocal melodies, as shimmering guitars hum alongside interspersed synth leads.
But the dream pop foundations under Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway are not firm. Opening track “At the Party” combines stylish synths, punchy bass, and an infectious dance beat to culminate in a disco-infused indie dance track. “Actress” follows the trend with the introduction of string pads and horns. On tracks like “Order”, Vu embraces her inner headbanger as distorted guitars burst into a brief, but brutal, scratchy guitar solo. But while eclectic, there is a shared tone throughout the EP, lending it a consistency that doesn’t sacrifice fresh ideas. Closing track “Worm” completes this variety as the instrumentation is stripped back to acoustic guitar and vocals, allowing Vu’s voice to shine through.
And it is Vu’s voice that stands out throughout the EP. In a welcomed change to the breathy, airy vocals that saturate dream pop, Vu’s voice is firm, confident, and comes with a noticeable presence of its own. Casually shifting intonation between soft and sinister – supported in places by deftly applied vocal distortion – Vu’s vocals well capture the aesthetic and mood of her songs. On “Outside”, Vu’s voice moves from a velvety melancholy, reminiscent of Lana Del Rey, to strained and pained desperation. While highly produced, the delay and double-tracking that smatter the vocals are applied to retain the rawness of Vu’s voice.
A rawness enhanced by lyricism. Vu’s musings on heartache, social anxiety, and existential dread surrounding a young adult’s place in the world are charged with a bittersweet sincerity that sounds more confessional than complaining. Imbued with a self-aware naivety, Vu’s harsh self-deprecation eschews miserable cynicism for genuine vulnerability, reflecting a remarkable emotional and lyrical maturity.
The double EP is split into two sides, one entitled Nicole Kidman and the other Anne Hathaway, with each containing five tracks and possessing roughly equal runtimes. Unfortunately, little distinction can be made between the two, to the extent that tracks from either side could be swapped without causing much disruption to their flow. Consistency is no bad thing, but it raises the question of why Vu released a double EP at all. Without taking advantage of this split – either thematically or musically – Vu has produced an EP of awkward length. With a runtime of 28 minutes, Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway sits evenly between that of a usual EP and LP, committing itself to neither.
This oversight becomes more acute, given the underdevelopment of some tracks. “Fighter” and “Reflection” are under two minutes, and even the lead track “At the Party” doesn’t break the three-minute mark. Individually, these tracks beg for expansion as their abrupt endings do a disservice to the solid ideas within them. In a rare occurrence, Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway would have benefitted from additional material, warranting status as a full album than an unnecessary double EP.