by Erin Bensinger (@_babybluet)
Over the course of just sixteen minutes, singer-songwriter Hannah Read strums her way through a series of vignettes that delve thoroughly and unflinchingly into the heart of what it means to feel for another. Each track is brief yet perfectly measured, quiet yet self-assured, delicate yet unyielding; the album takes some of the more frequently discounted traits of lo-fi and spins them all into strengths, using the genre as a foundation on which she builds a masterpiece.
Read’s latest release as Lomelda, M for Empathy, was recorded over a single weekend with her brother in their small hometown of Silsbee, TX, and released on Double Double Whammy in March 2019. Simply stated, it’s lo-fi bedroom pop in its most evolved form.
The album’s short length and simple production allow Read’s skill as a songwriter to shine. It opens with the heart-softening “Talk,” a bare composition of acoustic guitar, vocals, and the ambient sound of a tape deck rolling that only needs one minute and a few seconds to create an atmosphere of reserved longing. It sounds like the feeling of hiding under the covers late at night on the phone with someone who will never quite be within reach.
In contrast, the following track “Bust” pulls in a variety of instruments for a fuller sound. It begins with a muted guitar, which becomes a strum, which becomes two; the sound builds in layers, including a twinkling piano accent, and it comes to a crescendo just in time to pull back and let Read’s voice peek through. It does away entirely with any pretense of a traditional song structure, leaving room only for the layering and swells that convey the same feeling as her words:
I thought of so many things to say to you
But what were they what were they what were they
To you, to you?
The longest track on the album is also the most complex and the most wrenching. On “M for Me,” Read contemplates the destructive effect that death would have on a blossoming relationship amid a field of moody guitars and an ambling piano melody. The keys act as a counter-melody to the vocals, echoing along as the undefined “you” to her “me.”
Lo-fi bedroom pop has gained an unfair reputation as the domain of the unskilled and emotionally unstable. M for Empathy flies in the face of all who would claim such a thing, pairing skill and emotional intelligence without sacrificing simplicity or vulnerability. It’s a masterclass in the depths that one person can explore with such few tools in such a short amount of time.