Every few years or so, an album comes along that fills you with that warm feeling of awe, reminding us of the soul changing effect that well-constructed guitar music can have on the human heart.
Hand Habit’s debut LP, Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) is magnificent at capturing a feeling more than a sound, taking you to those lost summer days floating barely above the water, a hidden enigma that captures everything important about American guitar music.
Meg Duffy, the singer and guitarist behind Hand Habits has been recording and touring with Mega Bog and the Kevin Morby band, but her own efforts are much more an intimate, bedroom affair. Recorded in her living room in her Upstate New York hometown and at her current L.A home, Wildly Idle captures the beauty and tenderness in jangly guitar music that other bands don’t even come close to.
Duffy tells us that she has always gravitated to the more warm sounding frequencies than the tinny high ends. “I think the guitar I play really helped me figure that out. It’s a lone star strat with a humbucker, and the bridge pickup is very bass-y and warm. I only have one guitar, so it’s what I started with and with my vocals, making this record made me realize just rolling a bit of the high end off makes me feel more comfortable with hearing my own voice.”
The lo-fi qualities of a bedroom recording have their own specific charm, but Duffy’s album is so well orchestrated you would have thought it was recorded in a vacuum where melancholic surfers go to die. “I did everything on ProTools with less than a handful of microphones. The amp I was using started to die halfway through tracking so I ended up going DI for most of the guitars. I owe the final touches to Ged Gengras who mixed and mastered the record.” It was recorded mostly by herself except for a few guest performers including Avi Buffalo, Kevan Lareau and Sheridan Riley.
She says she is incredibly proud of the album, and rightfully so. Wildly Idle’s track “Actress” overwhelms you with Duffy’s songwriting ability, a folky-Paisley Underground song about running away to pretend to be something else that showcases her stunning vocals.
The stand out track is “All the While” which hooks you from the opening lyrics that instantly transport you to the Californian desert where she lives. “Hold me like a child/You made me out to be/And bring me to the Wild West/Where you can set me free.”
The themes Duffy wanted to convey through the songs were “being comfortable with space, with distance, with yourself in general. I’m very into comfort and moving through emotions.” Her creative rituals reflect this explorative approach to life as she spends time “Isolating myself, making myself vulnerable to new emotions and humans, taking a lot of baths and the ‘digital detox’, also going back to this book on reharmonization I have that I barely understand.”
Outside of music she says she would like to pursue fashion and carpentry as artistic pursuits, citing the fact that at the moment she has nowhere to put her clothes aside from a suitcase. If you want to catch her live, she may be embarking on a tour in Europe this April as well as opening for Kevin Morby in June, which definitely will be one of the best gigs to catch this summer.
postscript opinions: This album struck a chord with me because it’s fresh sound, rhythmic songs and semi-clean guitars were something I felt so desperate to hear, and hadn’t even realised it. I had turned my back on guitar music for the most part, looking for new vistas in the depths of electronic music, but what I had been looking for was right in front of me the whole time. Wildly Idle was almost a spiritual experience to me, like drinking a pot of Ayachusa and walking into the woodlands, fighting with your emotions but not in a sad way. It truly is a great album.