Fun House

Hand Habits

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Fun House Review

by Marcy Donelson

Between Meg Duffy's living-room-project debut as Hand Habits (Wildly Idle) and the full-band follow-up (Placeholder), Hand Habits' sound noticeably expanded while remaining textured, intimate, and rooted in folk sensibilities. A similar modification takes place with their third album, Fun House. It adds more-prominent synths, strings, and danceable rhythms -- and, in the process, volume -- to the mix without shedding the project's distinctively dreamy, reflective quality. At the same time that Duffy's ruminative lyrics edge toward acceptance, Fun House was so named partly for its tendency toward taking chances -- playing with surfaces -- in the studio. To that point, it was produced by dream pop/noise pop musician Sasami Ashworth (SASAMI, Cherry Glazerr) and mixed by Chris Coady (Beach House, Grizzly Bear) and Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff), the latter of whom engineered the album. These sonic developments are perhaps most evident on the first two tracks, "More Than Love" and lead single "Aquamarine." The former's driving synth pop is kept in check by its wistful melody and chord progressions, soft synth timbres, and a rhythm section that incorporates non-invasive woodblock. The funkier "Aquamarine" likewise never overpowers Duffy's gentle examination of their past. Perfume Genius' Mike Hadreas lends vocals to songs including the more folk-rock-leaning "Just to Hear You," and "No Difference," whose sunshine-pop harmonies are cushioned in acoustic guitars and brushed snare. Other stylistic diversions include the Southern rock-shaded "Concrete & Feathers" and the mumbled orchestral psych-folk of "The Answer." Fun House closes on "Graves," a melancholy ballad Duffy has described as a conversation with grief and remembrance. Even it -- essentially a solo acoustic guitar song -- draws texture from additional vocals and piano. Largely due to Duffy's restrained, inward-facing vocals, Fun House is at its best on songs with soft-spoken, atmospheric designs, but the experiments here are far from missteps.

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