Hatchie's 'Keepsake' Is Dream Pop for Our Doom

Press photo courtesy of Double Double Whammy (Bandcamp)

Hatchie's Keepsake contains nihilism and optimism at once.


Double Double Whammy / Heavenly / Ivy League

21 June 2019


If you're searching for one word to describe the '80s-leaning-into-'90s dream-pop throughline running through varied contemporary music (Taylor Swift, Chrvches, numerous indie-pop releases), one good candidate might be "swoon". Or at least it comes to mind to describe Hatchie's debut album Keepsake, which takes that of-the-moment, not-of-the-moment thematic direction and launches from there into the stratosphere. The album capitalizes on that swooning, realizes it, demolishes it.

Hatchie, aka Australian Harriette Pilbeam, is skilled at taking familiar sounds, lyrics and song titles (how many songs have been written with titles like "Stay With Me" and "Secret"?), and turning them into something huge, cinematic, completely involving at the heart, mind and body level. This is never quite dance music, never quite singer-songwriter confessionals, never quite prom slow-dance balladry – yet it is very much all of those things, all of the time, and then some. Not shoegaze, not trip-hop, not Top 40, not folk, not New Wave – yet all of these.

"Presence" is another good word, that feeling of the triumphant, desperate now. One example, clouded in intentional secrecy, is "Secret", where she whisper-mumbles through some sensual sentiments and then asks, "Baby / can you keep a secret?" It's in some small part a playful, abstract "Vogue" rewrite. Indeed, every song on Keepsake is a revision of a classic pop song, or at least a familiar pop theme, from a fresh new angle. The Cranberries are a clear favorite; as you'll hear in the openings to "Not That Kind" and "Her Own Heart" (that is, the Cranberries when they're in dream-pop mode, a la "Dreams" and "Linger", not the more strident tone of "Zombie"). "Without a Blush" starts with the Cure in mind. The instant-classic single "Stay With Me" fills my brain with David Bowie's "Let's Dance" for a brief second in the beginning and then washes it cleanly away.

The first song "Not That Kind" is a good example of how familiarity accelerates impact. Someday I'll pinpoint where the line "I gave you want you wanted / but you threw it away, you threw it away" comes from – her delivery seems to be egging me on towards that recognition at every step.

Hatchie's old-is-new, new-is-timeless approach breeds a feeling of comfort that she continually encourages, or basks in, and then subverts. It's hard to keep track of the number of times a song on Keepsake conjures up something that feels ancient and then goes in a different direction. Often that direction is deeper inside, hitting us in the gut, but other times it's outwards towards the world around us.

These songs offer cutting, emotional lyrics about romantic collapse, dressed in sheer beauty. There are bits of My Bloody Valentine or Cocteau Twins atmospheric soundscapery, but it's too direct for a genre tag like "shoegaze" to stick; Keepsake's blend of expansion and razor-sharp focus is contrary and powerful.

The Cranberries' "Zombie" might not be present here, but zombies are. There's an "Unwanted Guest", there are demons everywhere; there's the feeling that human beings are obsessed with something that's taken over them, they're being driven by forces beyond their control. Is it our lurching towards the apocalypse moment that makes this type of grand, stylish, romantic pop music so resonate with a feeling of fear and devastation? Perhaps that's how it's always been with this style of music – certainly someone could tell a complete history of pop music through that framework (and probably has).

Keepsake is synthpop evocative of romantic dreams, ambitions, and perhaps delusions, played as overwhelming and involving enough to transition from infatuation to obsession to a full-on state of doom. Decades collapse into each other, hearts tear each other apart. "I know I shouldn't be thinking / I shouldn't even feel at all," she quietly declares at the beginning of "When I Get Out", towards the album's end.

Keepsake contains nihilism and optimism at once. This tender, overwhelming pop music has a way of feeling like the soundtrack to the end of the world.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.