Following the quietly intricate Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) by two years, Placeholder sees Hand Habits grow from the solo project of session and touring guitarist Meg Duffy to an official band, if one with rotating members. Also unlike the home-recorded debut, the follow-up was tracked at Justin Vernon's April Base studio in Wisconsin, and Duffy's collaborators here include co-producer Brad Cook (William Tyler, Big Red Machine). The resulting album has a fuller sound, though it's still distinctly intimate. Lyrically, Placeholder explores various relationships -- good and bad -- which is reflected in a musical demeanor that's both melancholy and sweet. The album opens with a title track that includes several contexts for the word, including "Oh I was just a placeholder/Exchange for what you had." Its varied guitar textures, sauntering rhythm section including rhythm piano, and multi-tracked vocals provide what edges toward backing accompaniment compared to the musical counterpoint of some of her debut, though a dreamy, guitar-based atmosphere remains. The sweeter, affectionate-sounding "Are You Serious?" has sparkling synth tones and Omnichord woven into its palette alongside slide and rhythm guitar. Impressionistic lyrics remember someone from the past until "It all fades away/In the bathtub with clay on my face." Elsewhere, the wistful "Wildfire" is a drum-less track that relies on acoustic guitar, euphonium, and piano for its core. With the exception of the one-minute "Heat" -- which, reminiscent of the three "scenes" on the project's debut, offers an experimental, sample-based entry midway through -- the songs remain reflective and understated throughout these subtle variances. The album ends fittingly with "The Book on How to Change, Pt. 2," whose lyrics include lines like "I thought I heard your voice/It was just the TV screen" and the repeated "I don't have that memory."
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson