Awake But Always Dreaming is Hannah Peel’s second solo album. Following on from the more traditional music of her debut album, The Broken Wave in 2011, the next few releases included two Rebox EP’s (made up of covers of songs by Soft Cell, New Order, John Grant and others using music boxes).
As well as working with John Foxx, Beyond the Wizards Sleeve and as a member of The Magentic North, Peel has released a series of increasingly electronic vinyl / download releases such as Nailhouse and 2014’s Fabricstate (with its moving lead track, Silk Road).
Awake But Always Dreaming is a natural continuation into a more electronic landscape. The album opens with recent single All That Matters, an upbeat (lyrically and musically) slice of hi-energy pop.
The pace of the album settles down with Standing On the Roof of the World, a slow-burning piece that ushers in the themes of the album – communication and the most emotive thread running through the songs, the effect that dementia has on people and how it impacts on their close relationships.
Hope Lasts feels like a potential single – the hook sticks with you long after the song has finished.
Tenderly has a potent mix of acoustic piano and electronics, and as the song progresses, I’m reminded of Vespertine era Björk (mainly in the glitchy percussion and deep synth lines). Tenderly is one of the album’s strongest tracks, and always a pointer of a good song – it would be just as moving if stripped back to its core components of voice and piano.
The lyrics start to take a darker turn at this point, and the music reflects this change in mood. Peel’s vocals on Don’t Take It Out On Me have an undercurrent of coldness and repetition that perfectly reflect the anger and resentment in the lyrics. As someone who is currently watching a loved one disappear under the cloud of dementia, this song hit me very hard.
“Wherever you have been, I am made of stone”
Beautiful piano lines drift in and out of focus during the intro to Invisible City, with moving lyrics that touch on the feelings of someone engulfed by the over-powering and all-encompassing illness.
“I built this city around my body, these walls they hold me, like you once did”
Even though Awake But Always Dreaming is clearly an album informed by Peel’s experiences with her Grandmother and her illness, it works on so many other levels. The lyrics are not so specific that it won’t mean anything to you if your life has not been touched by memory loss or dementia. If you’ve felt loss or loneliness in any form, the songs on this album are likely to resonate.
Awake But Always Dreaming is a well sequenced album. The instrumental Octavia almost feels like a musical nightmare, with what sounds like a Kate Bush / The Ninth Wave referencing whispered “wake up” towards the tracks end.
The album’s closing pieces seem to play out to the increased fog of confusion in the disjointed beats and vague whispers. Awake But Always Dreaming‘s title song references a life now often focused on the past, not the present and certainly not on new, shared future memories. Musically, its the most disturbing arrangement on the album and is a powerful prelude to the album’s key track, Conversations.
With what sounds like a projector running in the background (maybe showing film of the subjects past), ghostly memories drift in and out of focus as the film stops, and the lyrics begin.
“When I wake up, dont recall what happened yesterday”
Conversations is the highlight of Hannah Peel’s recorded output to date. An emotional, powerful vocal performance and a simple, direct and brutally honest lyric mark this out as the highlight of the album. There is no poetic licence in the words, no attempts to romanticise the situation, or to soften the blow. Its painful but so true.
“Where did you go?”
Foreverest is the albums longest track at just under 9 minutes. I love the ambitious arrangement on this track. There is a feeling of a release of tension on Foreverest as the journey nears its inevitable end.
Awake But Always Dreaming closes with the Paul Buchanan (The Blue Nile) song Cars in the Garden. Underpinned by Peel’s music box, this duet with Hayden Thorpe from Wild Beasts is an emotional finale.
“When you wake me up and say
All the love the others gave me
One day I could leave it all
And find the place that we forgot”
I hope this album starts conversations about memory loss and dementia. I will close by saying that in a time when NHS resources are stretched and people with dementia and their carers often feel unsupported and isolated, there are great organisations that can help – such as the charity Dementia UK , who support families through their specialist Admiral Nurses. Feel free to donate to the charity if you can.
And of course, buy Hannah Peel’s wonderful Awake But Always Dreaming album.
Buy the Awake But Always Dreaming CD on Amazon (includes mp3 autorip)
Buy the Awake But Always Dreaming vinyl LP on Amazon (includes mp3 autorip)
Buy Rebox on Amazon