A few weeks ago, Taylor Swift released a new album which was produced and co-written by Aaron Dessner of The National. The world went mad. Swifties everywhere began Googling The National and Bon Iver (who features on the LP). Independent music press that normally wouldn’t touch Taylor with a bargepole waxed lyrical. Fans of the indie and folk genres who may have previously steered well clear of the person who sang songs such as ‘Shake It Off’ were suddenly shrouding her in glowing praise, declaring the album as an early contender for their album of the year. It was fascinating to watch. And I was a sucker for it, too – in a way. I am a huge fan of The National and Bon Iver so there was no way I wasn’t going to give Folklore a listen. Alas, it wasn’t really for me. There were bits I liked, but in the end I couldn’t get past the often saccharine lyrics, the weak clothing related metaphors, and (this is just a personal thing, so don’t kill me) Taylor’s sickly-sweet voice.
All of the aside, I recognise Taylor’s talent and am really glad that she chose to work with someone such as Aaron Dessner. It was a bold move from an artist who likes to take risks. That deserves recognition. I bring Folklore up because, just a few weeks later, we have another album which Dessner has produced and co-written, but which will no doubt be released to much less fanfare. All That Emotion is Hannah Georgas’s fourth album, but I had never heard of her until the press release for this album landed in our inbox. Many of the musicians that worked on Folklore are also here with Hannah, too. You can instantly hear that on opening song ‘That Emotion’. Many of things that made Taylor’s latest appeal to a wider audience are on offer: the gentle strings, the sweeping crescendos, the intricately woven layers in the music. All things that are staples of a Dessner production. For me personally, though, there is a depth to Hannah’s voice and a maturity to her lyrics that makes this the much more rewarding listen of the two albums.
Her stunning vocal range is obvious on early song ‘Dreams’, in which she tells a story of clinging to a loved one while the world collapses around her. In ‘Pray It Away’, over a percussive build that is typical to Dessner, Hannah sounds particularly forlorn as she tries to persuade someone to stay with her even after discovering some piece of information that seems to have changed the way they view her forever. It is a beautiful piece of music. And it’s followed by the more musically uplifting ‘Someone I Don’t Know’, which appears to conclude a story that is told over the first half of the album. Here we have Hannah hoping and praying that ‘some day I’ll get over you’, but in her wavering vocal she manages to persuade you that she doesn’t really believe that. It ends a hugely involving and emotional first half of the album.
We then move onto one of the album’s absolute standouts. ‘Punching Bag’ sounds, musically, like it could have been lifted off of either of The National’s last two albums as it starts with a skittery electronic beat that soon turns into a densely layered crescendo. ‘Just A Phase’ has a similar soundscape. And ‘Habits’ comes in towards the end to make a claim for its place among the best songs on the album, as Hannah once again makes the most of that impressive vocal range. Two songs towards the end of the album – ‘Just A Phase’ and ‘Cruel’ – are probably the closest thing to what you might have enjoyed on Folklore. And while I personally think this is a vastly superior album, I do hope that fans of the Taylor Swift will give some time to this LP too. It has enough pop sensibility to appeal. And one of the many good things that should come from a massive artist stepping into a different realms is that hidden gems such as this one get more attention than they normally would. Here’s hoping.
Words by Fran Slater