A name change, a new sound, a rebrand – these elements together signalled the start of a new era for Sydney-based musician, songwriter and vocalist, Huck Hastings. After spending a few years out of sync with his solo project, due to other commitments and other musical projects, attention was diverted back to Hastings’ solo pursuits when the artist stepped back on stage. Honing his artistry behind the scenes, in the safety of solitude, it wasn’t until a flurry of live activity that Hastings divulged this new strident direction. The live show had experienced a recalibration and refocus, spurred onward by the supplementation of more players on stage and a bracing new energy. Now in place was a band-forward style of indie folk pop, with meticulous emphasis placed on words, storytelling and melody.
New influences started to become prevalent in Hastings’ music and his songcraft inevitably evolved into something else, a sound and style that still retains the purity we first fell in love with, the stark lyricism we grew to cherish, but where the darker edges originally prevailed, now a testing situation spurs a song to greater awareness rather than angst-riddled frenzy. The simple act of growing as a human being and artist, maybe. Yet the glaringly vast improvements in terms of sound quality, emotional cadence and sonic clarity, tells more than that; a distinctive voice coming of age, understanding where it has been and where it needs to go, and accepting that calling – at the root it is a full alignment and refinement of creative vision.
When the time came to start releasing new music, a number of years had passed since the last Huckleberry Hastings ensemble to where the overall aesthetic and soundworld existed in the present. The new material had already received significant road-testing ahead of its official public unveiling in October 2019, yet for most it would be the first time hearing this artist and their sounds online.
Of the first recording to be released, ‘Hey Babe?‘ exemplified the extraordinary growth Hastings had processed between then and now (even though angst may still be present, it doesn’t propel the song as it might have in the past); ‘Hey Babe?‘ is a song of two sides: reconciliation and a yearning for closure. It strums a hummable rhythm and always keeps it light; the guitar, being the first thing we hear, immediately starts building the song’s main melody framework before a sudden kick of percussion hits, led by the appearance of the lead vocal which utters the song’s title refrain. It’s a simple song, yet it’s within the lyrics were the real crux of complexity lies, the narration is strict with its use of honesty – and blunt honesty, it is – finely treading on the verge of intense. Concentrating visibility on the songwriting allows Hastings’ fine penmanship to be displayed, and it doesn’t hold back minutiae of personal information rather it encourages vulnerability, confession, and a breaking of the artist-listener boundaries via candid exchanges and relatable language. It’s a bold, bristling, open hearted letter to oneself and lessons learnt in life.
The first two singles Huck Hastings released, signified the closing of a chapter while opening the door to transformation. Both tracks feed into each other, although ‘Hey Babe?”s stance is certainly more fluctuating in nature, as it examines self-worth, obsessive behaviour patterns and power dynamics. ‘Soft – An Epilogue‘ picks up the narrative once again, but is altogether a declaration of personal growth and self-empowerment.
The production is vibrant and more considered, mirroring the song’s amiable lyrical maturity, while it still packs a gut punch the swings are without malice, it is clear that some time has passed since the events of ‘Hey Babe?‘ and the potency of pain has dissipated somewhat. It offers a well-rounded point of view on the trials and tribulations of an all-consuming love from the perspective of distance and hindsight, with the overarching message, a positive one: realising that one’s own self-worth is the ultimate gift in life, and while pain and emotional strife sometimes have to be experienced to reach a state of awareness, know that every experience teaches us something valuable and shapes us into stronger, more rounded people. In a song that tackles intricate emotional material, Hastings manages to walk the tightrope between witty eloquence and hard-hitting truths with utmost care, the lines land with the most perfect precision and grace, Hastings has never sounded so resilient nor has he ever assured such control.
‘Anthem for the End of the World,’ Huck Hastings’ third release switches gears. Written in recent times during the Australian bushfires, the track laments romantically when considering the End of the World. Imbuing the dread of real-life devastation with a dream-like filter, in a simple three minute song Hastings asks his listener to look inward, to evaluate their own lives, what they hold dear and the things they value. It bears the glow of universality on its sleeve, offering comfort in the face of uncertainty and a sense of solace in accepting our own impermanence.
The narrator talks as if to a close friend, reflecting on warm memories and misspent choices, flitting between present, past and future tense, the song feels different, unique – and is – because of this. Lyrically, it is devastating as it is serenely sentimental, Hastings’ use of imagery is particularly striking: “Sydney’s on fire/ Ash in my drink,” “Let’s dance as the world ends/ Pretend we’re infinite/ Pretend we’re more than (more than) this.”
‘Anthem…‘ is also the most-produced recording of Hastings’ oeuvre to date: the bass delivers a beautifully memorable hook which repeats throughout, the guitar strums a sing-song lullabic melody, the drums give underpinning to every line while they sashay a sturdy rhythm, and synth adds a touch of nuance in the bridge before the chorus returns for an epic grand finale, this time with rollicking saxophone added. The track also features Ainsley Farrell on backing vocals, it’s an understated feature but utilised just right, the soft warmth of her voice traces Hastings’ vocal line in the bridge, providing a lush counter to his lead.
Up to this point we had only scratched the surface of what Huck Hastings is capable of, the breadth of musicality on display in ‘Anthem for the End of the World‘ not only audibly ups the ante but creatively pushes Hastings’ sound in new directions: an anthemic, revelrous, soul-searching emotional experience. Huck Hastings shouldn’t be labelled as “one to watch,” but one to admire. It’s music with heart, intricacy, and unpredictable turns.
Huck Hastings performs live as part of our musorelief festival on Sunday 31st May – full details here.