Written by Zack “Ziggy” Merritt
It’s hard to get me excited about anything that brands itself as lo-fi these days. A creative renaissance for the sound surged in the late 2000s-early 2010s during the brief but influential chillwave movement. 3 years ago, back in 2017, lo-fi music had a quieter, though tightly concentrated resurgence with bands like Fazerdaze, Hoops, and Hazel English becoming some of the more prominent voices.
For the latter, its been a relatively quiet 3 years since the release of her double EP, Just Give In/Never Going Home. Where her debut EPs were built behind a sonic wall of cloudy dream pop, on her full-length debut, Wake UP! those same clouds have dissipated to reveal a purposeful, sunny throwback to the more feel-good psychedelic pop of the mid-to-late 60s. However, I want to be careful not to so neatly box that up. English is able to use that vintage toolbox to construct something modern and uniquely hers and hers alone with lyrics that bounce between romance, anxiety, and its inverse, serenity.
I’m happy that none of what made English’s initial offerings so remarkable is lost here, only enhanced and more boldly annunciated. Her vocals are still echoey and neatly layered, but the lo-fi static has been eschewed. Unburdened, those vocals are primed for a more leading role, with “Shaking” and “Off My Mind” immediately capturing center stage.
“Shaking” was the inaugural single, coming out months before any details about the album were announced. As the second track on Wake UP!, it sets up a novel consistency in the album’s more psychedelic production. Featuring both Justin Raisen and Ben H. Allen in those production credits, both aiding immeasurably in collaborating with English to preserve her voice while building a bigger stage for her to move around.
“Get down on your hands and knees, baby beg for me” sings English on “Shaking.” Those lyrics are a starker, unexpected contrast to her prior output that relied far less on the comprehension of already fuzzy vocals. There is a refreshing confidence and welcome weirdness to English’s identity here as a cult-like figure.
And while “Shaking” is far and away from the most radical departure in terms of her sound, “Off My Mind” is the first track I came to that felt familiar, yet consistent with the psychedelic overtones already established. With a more expansive sound, melodic jangle, and sparkling percussion, it has all the hooks English is known for with enough shine to make it one of her best tracks to date.
The back half of Wake UP! struggles more to keep up with a stellar opening, but that’s to be expected with almost any album. Nothing sags here or comes to an outright dull finish. Wake UP! is a solid debut for an artist you can’t help but feel is just starting to come into her own.
Connect with Hazel English