Cardiff songwriter’s fifth solo album: inspired by grief, produced by Cate Le Bon. H. Hawkline ★★★★ Milk For Flowers HEAVENLY. CD/DL/LP
MUSIC FANS ARE nosey, always trying to sniff out meaning. Metaphor and codification throw us off scent, yet we’ll nurse hunches and pet theories. On his fifth solo album, H. Hawkline, AKA Cardiff ’s Huw Evans, stacks an intricate Jenga tower of imager y and non sequitur, then leaves us dangling from its north face, seekers without a sherpa. Nuns picking roses; tins of perfumed sweets; “Feathers on the pedals, everybody wants one.” What does it all mean?
Back at base camp, press release in hand, yawning six-year gap between Milk For
Flowers and 2017’s I Romanticize inviting more conjecture, we’re told Evans’s latest follows “several dances with the violence of life.” Consider his mother Anja’s sad passing to cancer in 2018 and notice that Milk For Flowers’ stark last line is, “My dad doesn’t sleep any more”, and all is illuminated. What, after all, disorientates more than grief? And how better to portray that than by placing us in grief ’s perplexing hall of mirrors?
In recent years, Evans has busied himself as a guest instrumentalist in live settings and across such choice albums as Aldous Harding’s Warm Chris and Cate Le Bon’s
Reward. He brings indelible melody and a surprising amount of pep to these playful art-rock songs of familial and romantic loss. Indeed, Suppression Street has just a hint of Adam Buxton podcast jingle about it, even as it portrays a man who, hollowed out by bereavement, still strives to present his best, ‘most normal’ self in public.
As the aforementioned Le Bon produces from the crow’s nest vantage of shared romantic and artistic histor y, foils from John Parish to Aldous Harding’s pedal steel player Harry Bohay queue to return Evans’ favours. Brass, spacey little synth hooks and eccentric lead guitar also colour his most personal album to date, and you notice that the songs’ codas often peel away to reveal backbones of ebony and ivory (witness sedate honky-tonker I Need Him, or the skittish, then stately, piano of Denver, part of which runs, “That’s her moving in me/A hand I’ll never touch”).
By his own admission, Evans has previously shied away from audibly heartsore candour, “keeping ever ything as flat and emotionless as possible.” Here, he’s palpably moved and invested, airing hard-won insights – “Old women/Young children/Can teach you everything you need to know about living” – and sketching the surreal terrain of loss in crystalline tones devoid of artifice.
“As time gets even there’s more to do,” he sings on Like You Do, duetting with himself in a delicate falsetto. That lyric’s inference, perhaps, is that loss and incremental damage can be a wake-up call, too. Heartening, then, that Milk For Flowers sounds wide awake; gloriously alive.