You didn’t expect someone who called his last record Frankly, I Mutate to stay in one place for long, did you? Once the leader of the sorely missed Grand Pocket Orchestra and a key part of the Popical Island collective, Dubliner Paddy Hanna made sure the freewheeling, eclectic spirit carried on into his solo work. Striking out on his own on 2014’s Leafy Stiletto, he stepped things up with his second album two years ago, a typically expressive effort that embraced accessibility. For its follow-up, Hanna mutates again for The Hill, his third outing, billed as an ‘internal musical’.
It’s the product of a reunion with Girl Band’s Daniel Fox, who’s tapped for production once again and pulling double duty on double bass, with the full band rounded out by Girl Band’s Adam Faulkner on drums; Daniel Fitzpatrick (formerly of The Mighty Stef and currently of Badhands) on guitar and keys; and Jill Redmond contributing additional vocals. It displays a darker side to Hanna’s music than we’ve heard from him previously - the serene instrumental opener ‘Last of Their Kind’ obfuscates the intense emotion that lies at the album’s heart, its creation viewed as a form of therapy.
Clattering percussion drives the unsettling ‘Cannibals’ - we don’t hear Hanna’s voice front and centre until four minutes into the record as a whole, and when it does surface, it’s muffled by reverb and drowned out by the instrumental storm around him, kept together by instantly memorable melodies. They’re Hanna’s calling card, seeking to uplift even when things are at their most downbeat. A sombre, autumnal mood hangs over much of what’s on offer here; it’s a marked contrast to the swelling strings that coloured its predecessor, as ‘My Ladybird’ is held together by gentle guitar and Fitzpatrick’s tasteful keys, bubbling along underneath Hanna’s murmuring, barely-there vocals.
On the whole, it’s a rather introspective listen, tackling the clash between old and current selves, mental health struggles and the strain of searching for happiness; but in spite of all this, the rich arrangements Hanna has become known for are there in abundance. The stop-start ‘A Strange Request’ shuffles and sways to a rich musical backdrop, and ‘Sinatra’ dons smoky noir shades for a devilishly dark turn. Mid-album highlight ‘Howling at the Duke of York’ wastes no time in making its presence felt, its opening wail dovetailing with an acoustic guitar to lay the foundations for the beauty that follows. Penultimate track ‘Jog On Shall We?’, meanwhile, is a riveting, rambling journal entry led by fluttering accordion and startling vocal interjections - not to mention some well-placed humour - as the creation-as-therapy aspect of the record fully enters the light and the creator reckons with his past.
Closing track ‘Colosseum’ is a stunner, swept along by a gorgeous vocal hook and bright, sun-dappled melodies, culminating in a luxuriously slow fade out to bring the curtain down on an album that finds Paddy Hanna trying on another new guise and deciding that it suits him, at least for now. His signature melodic flourishes suit any number of styles, and while his third album may opt for a more reflective mood than some may be used to for him, it’s filled with moments of striking immediacy - by turns maudlin and euphoric, with an impeccable flow that practically demands it be listened to from start to finish. No clues are forthcoming as to what form the idiosyncratic Hanna’s next mutation may take, but that just might be the best part, as he’s proven himself to be a master of reinvention, with the hit rate to match. From the top of The Hill, the view looks great.