by Madeleine Tomasoa
Hand Habits (Meg Duffy) takes you on an intimate ride throughout their new album Fun House (out Friday via Saddle Creek).
The solemn opening notes of “More Than Love” cue us into their melancholy: “Tonight I’ll put on a song,” they say, like a vise grip. There’s something about the monotony of everyday life in lyrics such as “Another Saturday night / I’m all dressed up / In blue / For you,” perfectly crafted with such care and attention. Soft synths in the background and a steady drumbeat hold the listener’s hand while Meg goes about “putting on a show.” “More than love,” they croon — and you’re left to wonder about the tension and the pull of your own personal relationships.
“Aquamarine” is jarring and dissonant, and Meg’s steady hum of “Who am I” creates exciting space between them and the listener. There’s careful distance and a warm presence throughout as the drum machine steadily beats on and on. We’re then taken for a treat with the addition of Perfume Genius on “Just To Hear You,” a stripped-down track that tells you: “I don’t need anything.” And for a beautiful moment, you may be convinced that you really don’t need anything at all. Their harmonizations blend in together wonderfully, and they shadow each other, whispering tender lyrics all the while.
“No Difference” declares that there’s “No difference / Between losing and finding you.” This stunning revelation leaves us with a certain kind of delicious emptiness, especially paired with the rise and fall of Duffy’s vocalizations. “Graves,” meanwhile, is simple in both its instrumentation and its memories—”Don’t go digging a grave,” they say, and you’re left to wonder about what went wrong. The accompanying guitar is careful and quiet in its motions, creating lush harmonies overall.
“False Start” starts abruptly, and refuses to hold the audience’s hand in the best way possible. “Saxophones / and false starts,” Duffy croons, immediately making us hungry for context. “You recall / I was falling apart,” meanwhile, silently devastates. The instrumentation is gorgeous here invoking a luxuriant feeling. “You missed the best part,” they chant towards the end, fully ominous and indelible as the guitar cues us out.
The next track, “Clean Air,” births emotional tension: “I can no longer stand at the gates of your love / I can no longer ask this of you.” Again, we are being held with such tenderness and awe. This immediate closeness Meg creates feels like foreheads touching together, intimate, perfect with one another. There’s an excellent bass breakdown as well, creating an unexpected grooviness to the track.
We’re finally provided an answer to Meg’s sorrows in the aptly-titled “The Answer,” though the track’s closure is far more abstract than its concrete framing would suggest. Much like Duffy’s emotional arc, the track feels like walking on a tightrope, delicately navigating your way through soaring synths and skies. “I know the answer,” they say, confidently — creating a reassuring sense of closure without directly pointing to an “answer” at all.
“Control” closes the album out sorrowfully with this new knowledge, delving back into the specific imagery that acts as a hallmark of Duffy’s songwriting. “Taking off all your clothes / You turn to me and say / Don’t let it get out of control,” they sing softly, the striking warning standing out next to the sensual image. The accompanying instrumentation is deliberate and insistent in its tone and bookends the entire album, ending the listener’s flux state with a quiet, final devastation.
Madeleine Tomasoa is the current Assistant Editor for Sledgehammer Lit. They are from Jakarta, Indonesia. They enjoy betting on losing dogs and watching cars go around in circles.