King Hannah 2024
Photo: Joséphine Leddet / Bixz 3

King Hannah Deliver Another Satisfying Set of Songs

Liverpool’s King Hannah reference indie rock contemporaries on Big Swimmer but advance their sound through unique soundscapes that stand on their own.

Big Swimmer
King Hannah
City Slang
31 May 2024

Big Swimmer by King Hannah extend their streak of solid albums, all featuring graceful chords followed by rip-roaring guitar solos. Hannah Merrick (vocals, composer) and Craig Whittle (guitar, composer) bring that intimacy to bear on their latest effort. Listeners knew that the Liverpool duo could generate deep and affecting music together, but Big Swimmer deepens their sound in some striking ways, mainly by creating new sound structures that allow Merrick’s vocals to soar. It also finds them emulating contemporaries on some tracks, but they mostly deliver singular soundscapes that they have continued to refine over their first three records.

It has only been two years since the excellent I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me (2022), and King Hannah have not changed much fundamentally but have evolved stylistically during that time. They approach their craft with the same ethos but have leaned into the indie sounds of the moment. For example, “New York, Let’s Do Nothing” sounds strikingly similar to Dry Cleaning. The biggest difference is that the track features personal anecdotes, such as the duo’s origin story, as opposed to the vocal abstractions we expect from that talk-sing delivery. “This Wasn’t Intentional” channels Sharon Van Etten, and closer “John Prine on the Radio” could pass for a number of today’s celebrated alternative country artists.

Not surprisingly, the lead single, “Big Swimmer”, actually features Sharon Van Etten. However, King Hannah deliver their quintessential sound here and elsewhere on Big Swimmer. That approach is to lull listeners into a state of complacency with Merrick’s alluring vocals before delivering a rousing response, usually the result of Whittle’s sophisticated orchestration. Behind a simple acoustic guitar, Merrick spins a metaphor about bravery: “When the river is floating / And the mouth has come to its end / Do you carry on swimming or / Do you jump out and grab your towel?” Even after nearly two minutes, when they swap the acoustic for an electric guitar, the song still moves languidly before laying out a pristine guitar solo indebted to Galaxie 500.

King Hannah have developed a distinct sound, but other influences appear on Big Swimmer, some surprising and others not. “Lily Pad” channels early Cat Power, and “Davey Says” is reminiscent of The Great Destroyer-era Low. “The Mattress” is an absolute burner that offers a Neil Young guitar clinic, while Merrick evokes Beth Gibbons from Portishead. Nobody really cares if the titular mattress is floating due to hallucinogens, an optical illusion, or awesome sex; the effect is all the same once Merrick’s vocals soar over Whittle’s crunchy guitar effects.

There is a lot of depth to a group that’s so simple. The same could be said of many other duos, which are usually more indebted to garage rock (think the Kills, the White Stripes, or the Raveonettes). King Hannah chart a different path in that their sonics are more atmospheric and moody, naturally creating a sound more significant than the sum of its parts. They can also make every encounter confidential, but they can do so in different ways. For instance, “Milk Boy (I Love You)” offers an idiosyncratic story that even references the film Dallas Buyers Club, but those late-night ramblings would only make sense to someone on the same chemical wavelength. Conversely, “Suddenly, Your Hand” is beautifully placid in its intimacy and contains qualities that would connect with any listener.

On Big Swimmer, King Hannah take another step forward in their songwriting and even production, which is of higher fidelity than previous records. That is not surprising because most artists want to be commercially viable or at least garner a devoted fanbase, something that has not been easy to develop as a band due to their artistic choices. By showcasing new influences, such as Dry Cleaning and Sharon Van Etten, King Hannah could seek to expedite the process. They also may be paying homage to a group of like-minded artists who are forging new ground in this indie space. Either way, they have delivered another satisfying set of songs that provides their audience with a rewarding listen.

RATING 8 / 10