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Charlie Hilton

By Any Other Name

Jun 09, 2016 Charlie Hilton Photography by Brianne Wills Bookmark and Share

If Charlie Hilton‘s solo debut album Palana brings to mind a certain iconic 1960s singer, know that you’re not the only one to notice the similarities. The Blouse frontwoman recognizes her untraditional vocal phrasing (“My vocal delivery style sometimes sounds a little funny!”), puts her in line for Nico comparisons. But, she admits, her admiration of the German chanteuse doesn’t run in the family.

“I distinctly remember one moment, when I first started becoming obsessed at the end of high school, we were sitting down to dinner, which is actually very rare of my family,” she recounts. “I was like, ‘just a moment,’ and I went and put in The Velvet Underground CD that I had. And my dad was like ‘I hate this shit!’”

She laughs, her tone indicating that the story is told out of love, rather than in jest.

“I’ve always been perplexed by his taste in music,” she continues. “I definitely wasn’t thumbing through my dad’s record collection to get my inspiration.”

Hilton notes that releasing a solo album has always been in the cards, and certainly doesn’t signal the end of her band. (“It’s just another opportunity to make a record,” she explains. “Under whatever name. I don’t really care, I just like recording a lot.”) Encouraged by Captured Tracks label owner Mike Sniper after he heard one of her demos, Hilton began chipping away at new material, shortly after Blouse finished up promotional obligations behind their 2013-released sophomore album Imperium. Work kicked off with a writing session with label-mate Mac DeMarco. The idea to create a whole album together was scrapped due to scheduling logistics, but his contribution can be heard on the playful duet “100 Million.”

Largely acoustic with flourishes of synth and strings (plus an assist on cello from Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder), Palana is a showcase for Hilton’s haunting soprano, equal parts wistful and dangerous. Her stripped-back odes guide the listener through a variety of awkward moments, agonizing small talk (“Funny Anyway”), identity-crushing interactions (“Pony”), and wordless flirting (“Let’s Go to a Party”). All of the stories come from a real place, and all of them are incredibly personal, particularly when Hilton describes several heartbreaking situations over the course of “When I’m Gone,” wondering, “will I feel anything at all?”

But mostly, Hilton explains, the album is a trip through personal reinvention. She’s all these characters, just trying to figure life out as she goes. The title Palana (Hilton’s birth name, also a Sanskrit blessing), only serves to underscore how much of her self she put into the release.

“I think that most of the songs on the record are very personal,” she muses. “I think communication is one of the most satisfying things you can do. It’s what we’re all trying to do all the time. I think that’s what makes music so nice. If you’re able to successfully communicate this feeling that you have inside. Whatever it is, if you translate it, and someone else is able to understand, there’s so much gratification there.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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