REVIEW: Hannah Epperson - UPSWEEP

Laura Kerry

Hannah Epperson’s UPSWEEP traces different stories, spaces, and visions as they intersect in a wholly unique two-part album. The artist, who grew up in Vancouver and studied Human Geography, a field that explores humanity’s impact on the natural landscape, creates her own immersive sound environment comprised of a dreamy mixture of folk music, synth-pop, baroque-pop, and jazz, among other components. Epperson borrows her album’s title from the name of sounds that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collected over time but could never identify, a fitting image for a work whose threads seem to emerge from nowhere and flow, hauntingly and mesmerizingly, as it submerges the listener.

A skilled storyteller now at home in Brooklyn, Epperson follows another main strand through the album: two characters, Amelia and Iris, from an in-progress screenplay by the artist. With each character dwelling in parentheses next to the same five song titles, UPSWEEP reads more like an EP repeated in two related but very different styles.

The first time through, the Amelia half, reflects Epperson’s collaboration with producer Ajay Bhattacharyya. The album opens on violin plucking and contains accents of it, her main instrument, throughout, but the first part is largely driven by electronic and pop elements. “Circles,” the second track, gains its sultry power from the deep pulse of trip-hop bass (“I’m tired of healing / I wanna remember what we did in the back seat”); through the intertwining of jazzy melodies and percussion, auto-tuned voices sing the sparse chorus in “Strong Thread”; waves of dance-synth arpeggios define the floating sensation of “Story”; and sparkling harp and mallet sounds glitter across the left and right channels in the R&B- and synth pop–infused “Iodine.”

Though Epperson reimagines the same songs, the second half of UPSWEEP sounds foreign. In it, her violin—plucked, strummed, bowed—takes center stage, and her voice, often almost unrecognizable, sets the tone in a half-whisper. The sultry “Circles” becomes a slow reflective tune that peaks into an aching moment when Epperson’s voice breaks; “Story” floats again, this time in violin reverie; and “Iodine” rests on otherworldly plucking underneath vocals that alternate between quiet whisper and pop confidence. The lyrics and the poetic stories they describe emerge more in this half, which leans towards the folkier side of art or baroque pop.

The transition between these different genres and characters on the album halves is a real rift that relies, in some ways, on outside concepts to bridge it. But beneath the rich conceptual dimensions of Epperson’s work, the artist composes music so smooth and absorbing that you may not even skip a beat in the switch from Amelia to Iris. It’s harder to immerse with starkness than it is with noise, and on UPSWEEP, Epperson manages to do so twice, in two distinct and beautiful voices.