Naming an album “Wake Up” in 2020 is a loaded venture at the least. Being “Woke” is a thing, you know. Hazel English, a new enlistee to the consistently impressive Polyvinyl roster, does not seem worried about precedent though, and she went out there and named her full-length debut record Wake UP! Such a title would make one think that the album would be digging into social and political hot button issues, but that’s not present here, at least not on the surface level. More descriptively though, on Wake UP! English seems to be working through some thorny relationship issues with a collection of breezy, dreamy indie rock tunes with touches of a little bit of everything from country and contemporary pop to psychedelia and Motown.
Wake UP! Is English’s official full-length debut, her prior releases being the two EPs, Just Give In and Never Going Home. If you are a streamer, you would be forgiven to think her first LP was called Just Give In/Never Going Home as the two EPs have been combined to resemble a full-length on streaming services. Those EPs present a notably less produced yet quite pleasant low-stakes dream pop from English. A song like “Never Going Home” has the tonality of an early Real Estate track with the ethereal, lovely vocals of English flying over it all, and the track is not alone in its excellence in her early work.
Wake UP! takes many of the tools from earlier releases and overlays a noted theme: 1960s tunes of all kinds. Songs like the earwormy “Off My Mind” and the blurry “Like a Drug” play like a Motown girl group backed by a small indie rock combo, both in structure and the placement of the instruments.The way the drums lock in syncopation with the bass and the way the guitar lead walks right into the chorus screams Holland-Dozier-Holland. The percussion in “Waiting” is Phil Spector without the bloat. Psychedelica is a big callback for English on Wake Up! as well. The guitars in “Shaking” and “Milk and Honey” have just enough reverb and twang on their twisted riffs to sound just right at a love-In in the local park.
Speaking of love, that seems to be a big focal point for English on this album. Well, at least relationships. Falling right in the middle of the album, “Combat” and “Five and Dime” are about the same thing, a relationship barely staying glued together. Both songs detail the intense place in a relationship where the constant going back and forth wears. The difference between the two is that in “Five and Dime”, the narrator finds a relief valve. English sings, “You know I need my space. So I’m heading to the five and dime.” She’s talking about taking a break and decamping to something else. It’s impossible to get in English’s head and know what a five and dime represents to her personally, but the point is this: you have to take care of yourself in the end. Maybe, that’s what she wants us to wake up to: ourselves.