Huw Evans, also known as H.Hawkline, is a Welsh singer-songwriter, formerly based in Cardiff and now working in Los Angeles. He performs in both English and Welsh.
“This has been the first record I’ve made where I’ve felt as if everything came completely naturally, like post that comes with a handwritten address,” says Huw Evans of ‘I Romanticize’, the new album by his alter ego H Hawkline. “It fell together like a cat onto the floor.”
Now, heaven knows you can’t trust a musician to accurately appraise their own music – too self-centred, too self-critical, can’t remember making it, that kind of thing. On the other hand, when faced with a bold, delicious suite of bizarro-world psychedelic pop music like this one, why deprive yourself? From the opening few seconds of ‘Means That Much’, Huw sighing “They say that love can’t be good all the time…” choirboy-pure, to the beatific synths that carry ‘Last Thing On Your Mind’ to a close, ‘I Romanticize’ has all the sure-footedness of a rapidly descending feline, without the ruffled fur or hissing resentment.
Really, though, every H Hawkline release has a very natural charm and sprightly spontaneity. His earliest records under that name – ‘A Cup Of Salt’ and ‘The Strange Uses Of Ox Gall’, released in 2010/11 and now exceedingly rare – were surreal, haphazard jigsaws of psychedelic folk which still displayed plenty o’bushy-tailed pop leanings. They lit up the Welsh capital of Cardiff at around the same time as releases by the likes of Cate Le Bon, Islet and Sweet Baboo, all friends who played in each other’s bands and on their recordings.
An approach maintained by Huw wherever his adventures have taken him. Following a lyric-writing sabbatical in the rural Welsh town of Narberth, ‘I Romanticize’ (like its predecessor and Heavenly Records debut, 2015’s ‘In The Pink Of Condition’) was recorded at Samur Khouja’s Seahorse Sound studio in Los Angeles. “I like to record in as short an amount of time as possible,” Huw says. “Seahorse has everything you need and nothing more.”
Cate Le Bon accompanies Samur and Huw on production duties here, and forms part of a quartet which also includes Josiah Steinbrick – an LA weird-rock sideman supreme who, in turn, has lured Huw and Cate into his experimental jazz group BANANA – and Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa. “They were the best people for the job, and I also happen to be lucky enough to call them friends. Without their hands and ears wet clay would have collapsed,” is how the frontman sees it.
It’s a sweet state of affairs, and in many ways ‘I Romanticize’ exudes warmth and positive vibes and that falling-cat ‘what, me worry?’ nonchalance. Anyone who latched on to ‘In The Pink Of Condition’ will have their wait for a follow-up rewarded. Here, too, are wobbly psych guitars, punchy powerpop earworms, lyrics which observe the world through a fragmented lens. It’s not that simple, mind you. (Nothing is.)
Synths and pianos are much more prominent than on any previous H Hawkline release – be it a spirited trill worthy of the Paul McCartney solo albums that Huw proudly digs (‘Means That Much’); the fresh gleam of early 80s pop soundtracking unyielding yearning and “the shudder of regret” (‘Love Matters’) or hyperactive minimal synth fizz sharing duties with choppy garage rock riffs (‘Television’). ‘Cold Cuts’, whose lyrics are (a) the source of the album’s title and (b) delivered with the aid of shivery vocal processing, puts aside the guitars entirely, Stella Mozgawa driving things forward with a disco-tastic show on the drums. This is exciting, uncharted territory for H Hawkline, who says: “To my ears it’s pretty accessible pop music, but maybe there’s something wrong with my ears.”
The things he sings, too, are riper than ever with intriguing turns of phrase, cliché and proverb alike upended, and an uncanny ability to put you right there in the room with him even though you’re not quite sure what’s been going on (“Salt on my pillow / Guilt knotting my veins / The bitter taste of greens, the sweet reek of sage” – ‘Last Days In The Factory’). It’s an album for romantics, anti-romantics and those who hedge bets, tick multiple boxes and want it all. “Some words, as with their meaning, are unavoidable – ‘love’, ‘goodbye’, ‘time’, ‘you’, – but you can at least try and dress them up in some new clothes.”
Wise words from H Hawkline. One last thing before we leave readers to explore ‘I Romanticize’ in all its glory: why does he sing about salt so often?
“The year of The Great Letting Go became undid, ran to ruin like a cable knit in a rosebush rose and I can neither garden nor sew but I can sow, I can so. I can, so as ties severed tides whilst sighs gathered wood to make neolithic axe handles to display on exposed brick, naked bulb mantles, I sat in the flat. Watching as waiting. Sweeping as looking. Wondering why my sister had filled it with so many rocks, only able to think of one reason, one purpose. The bath. Salt sweetens, salt cleans, salt soothes. Salt the engines. Let them eat salt. What is there not to like?”