Trailing the new album of the same name, H. Hawkline takes us on a whirlwind tour of fantastic images, but do not be deceived by its melodic levity.
‘Milk for Flowers’, the new single from H. Hawkline, is like a long and confusing text from a friend you haven’t seen for ages. You don’t know exactly who or what they are talking about, but you feel their presence return, and sense that something is up. Indeed, us fans really have not heard much in the six years since ‘I Romanticise’ beyond occasional features on other people’s records and rare live shows. Trailing the new album of the same name, ‘Milk For Flowers’ begins to let us back into Evans’ world, but it would not be him if he were to tell you about it outright.
The new single is a deceptive piece, alternately inviting and resisting comprehension. On the surface, one might brush this off as a breezy piano-led shuffle sitting underneath typically kooky H. Hawkline lyrics. Nuns picking roses, milk left out for knights, it is easy to see how Evans might easily be pigeonholed as ‘Chamber Psych’ (or whatever Spotify’s latest nonsense genre brands it), defying meaning and sincerity as he winds his impressive vocabulary around an upbeat tune. Yet his work has always had substance beneath its idiosyncratic neo-dadaist first impressions. Spending a little more time with this song, we notice an elementally human candour between eye-catching but oblique images. The serenity of the melody is distressed by juxtapositions like the bruised idea of “picking a dance with violence”. The lilt of the piano line is deadened as the singer detaches from his song remarking, “someone said the music was on/I didn’t hear it play for so long”.
Between the lines and beneath the melody, we perhaps catch a glimpse of the emotional territory to be explored across the full album. The official statement on the new release introduces it as an album built on grief and a series of events that took Evans’ “spectrum of emotion and experience suddenly widescreen”. Producer Cate le Bon (a long-time collaborator of Evans’ – the pair have appeared on all of each others’ albums for over 15 years now) says of the collection, “I watched my dear friend fold into himself and extract from a terrible time an album so exquisitely raw, yet deftly graceful”.
On a first listen to the song ‘Milk For Flowers’, this statement seems incongruous, likely more relevant to other songs on the album. Taking guidance from these words, however, the lyrics begin to reveal new meaning. Evans admits, “I’m not so good at showing vulnerability and I think that is why, in the past, there has been a tendency to obscure or make abstract any real emotion”.
Perhaps in direct defiance of this instinct, the second chorus cuts into a stunted middle eight: “and I miss you so much”, before switching back to our nuns and knights. This brief moment ignites the magic within the song. On return, as if thrown off balance by this sudden frankness, the words are shifted around, their meaning reshaped and expanded. The tender “am I holding you right?” becomes “am I hurting you?”, while a beautifully adorned knight in rusted armour steps out of the shadows (“the older the knight the more it flowers”). In complicating his rhythms and images, there is room to reframe and understand the content of the song. The significance of the images begins to develop for the listener. For the speaker, there is hope that the bleakness and bewilderment of their subject can be contained and transformed with time. The picked roses are replaced by new flowers blooming from a knight’s helmet, speaking to the same human optimism that fed the ruin porn trend of depictions of nature reclaiming manmade spaces. In his typically idiosyncratic way, Evans charts the familiar literary triumph of experience and grace in the face of suffering.
As we patch up rose thorn cuts on our fingers, layered Stephen Black saxophones swell in major-key melody before the song thuds to a halt. This return to the subconscious realm that is H. Hawkline is over as abruptly as it began, and we are left only to look forward to the full release next year. One suspects it may shed a little more light on the chaotic carousel of images flashed before us in this track.