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Hyd’s CLEARING sparkles in hindsight



Release date: 11 November 2022
Hyd - Clearing cover
09 November 2022, 00:00 Written by Tanatat Khuttapan

There’s a roaring blaze glimmering in Hayden Dunham’s eyes as they tramp across the four elemental states of being.

Soft in speech but rough in texture, the electronic soundscapes of Hyd, a solo project by Hayden Dunham, have conjured a striking image of a demure, considerate, thoughtful lady whose dreams reside in a fantasy realm. The persona shies away from the buoyant, seemingly ebullient spark that was dominant in their previous alter-ego QT, when sarcasm and pretence were encrypted as part of their charm. This time, they revamp their scope, touching on the fragility, the astonishing intricacy of human relationships, whether it be psychological or physical, personal or interpersonal. They examined these topics first on their self-titled EP in 2021, dabbing at the lost, forgotten identity of self: a sandbox. “Am I finally home?” They once asked then, their eyes roving over the hazy, uncertain land that was the future.

Evidently, such areas have proven to be worth pursuing. On CLEARING, Dunham’s first ever solo album, they fully immerse themselves into love, covering from its blossoming to its wilting. A person who values expression and complexity, they dissect the cycle of the record into 4 elemental states of being, all of which are related to nature: Fire (destruction), Ash (rebuilding), Garden (germination), and Air (emergence). It's ambitious and resplendent – an instalment that sets in place the vision of their landscape: an expansive cordillera sheathed in patches of glistening snow, a crystalline lake in the steep valley, and the sturdy pines studding the shoreline of it. Occasionally, there is mist obscuring the purity of the area; and when those times come, rage and fury take over the euphoria that often amplifies Dunham’s lightweight vocals and besotted musings: a manifesto of lite yet unruly mania.

This is what makes CLEARING a compelling record to listen to: Dunham is constantly shifting, gliding from one state to another, never settling in one definite form. They state it clearly in the first track, with their hoarse, seething voice piercing through: “I don’t trust people who tell me how to live.” Beneath their manifestations lies the trudging, brazen bass that blasts through jumbles of synthesisers; surely they are ready to wreak havoc if they become restrained. 2 tracks later, “So Clear” reintroduces them as a heartbroken lover who attempts to refuse an obvious implication. Then in “The Real You,” they reform as a pensive reflector, who seeks genuineness in the last phase of their relationship. There is fluidity over the course of Dunham’s narrative; the elements are simultaneously diverging and converging, and in return, CLEARING offers an intriguing insight on our conscience that is sometimes astute, sometimes biassed, and sometimes just remarkably false.

Dunham made sure to allow their fans to partake in the craft of this album, with some inspirations partly taken from the community. Many songs have been listed in their previous live performances throughout 2021 and early 2022, perhaps testing the dynamic, as well as the reaction, of these musical puzzles that were yet to be resolved. As always, Dunham invited their longtime collaborators to the table: hyperpop pioneers A.G. Cook and SOPHIE, as well as Caroline Polachek, Danny L Harle, Nömak, Jónsi, and EASYFUN. With such a magnitude of inventive minds, CLEARING, at its greatest, sounds lucidly superb, elegantly disruptive, and unabashedly diaphanous. “Chlorophyll” stomps amidst a maximalist eruption of volcanic percussion; “Glass” wades through the water that illustrates the reflexive harmonies stuffed in a moist vacuum (you can hear Polachek’s elastic vocals in the background); and “Afar” features the clanking of metals polished by what could be heard as a flickering of fire.

But there are times when Dunham traces the steps of past hits, chipping away the novel concepts that they bring in along the way. “Fallen Angel,” for example, taps into the full-blown electro-pop of the mid 2010s, and “Only Living for You” sets off the ecstatic fireworks of synths that are reminiscent of M83 and Flume. Still, the entity of CLEARING sparkles even when a haze looms over and blinds its scope: the mutations of sprawling emotions – transposing from metallic aloofness (“Trust”) to blossoming vulnerability (“Oil + Honey”). Wrapping up the journey with “Afar,” they sense a presence invisible to their sight; they have dismantled their bond with their partner then, and the hollowness is surging through their being. “I know who you are,” they shout aimlessly into the vast space, tossing away their regrets: “I never meant to leave / It wasn’t up to me.”

On Dunham’s debut, they wade through broken wishes and upsetting frustrations; and once the unknown figure slips into their periphery – a clearing of pain and sorrow – they raise their unlit torch high before them, hoping to catch a flame.

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