EP Review: Hana Bryanne – ‘Holy Ground’

Hana Bryanne, Californian singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed “indie bitch of your nightmares”, makes her musical debut with her new EP ‘Holy Ground’. 

On ‘Holy Ground’, Hana Bryanne attempts a feat seemingly insurmountable: distilling the chaos and magic of the teenage experience into a compact three-track project. The eighteen-year-old Californian undoubtedly seems to be up to the task, with her new EP capturing the anxieties of teenagehood, set to stripped-back guitar twangs and rich string arrangements.

Speaking to Hana about the project, she explains that the songs were meant to be a vignette of a life-altering moment in her life, one that’s familiar to most of us. At a symbolic crossroad, she had finished her compulsory education and was entrenched in a romantic situation that she coyly characterises as “pretty complicated”. There’s certainly this mood of change throughout her lyrics, simultaneously concerned with current conflicts while she hovers over the cusp of adulthood; a daunting reality looming.

The title track, ‘Holy Ground’ captures this with great sentimentality. With the subject matter “the experience of being young, and then suddenly finding yourself less young”, the song is equal parts mournful and celebratory. The lyric “teenaged mausoleum” glistens from the first play, demonstrating her whip-smart songwriting. Referring to her childhood bedroom, the artist explains how “with all the movie tickets and prom corsages and concert posters and polaroids that decorate the walls, it sort of functions as a shrine to all the versions of myself that don’t exist anymore”.

For Hana, that’s what this project is all about: condensing a very finite teenage experience into a sort of sonic/lyrical time capsule. “I want to be able to remember how it felt to be seventeen, because it goes so, so quickly.”

Certainly, the strangeness of 2020 seems to lurk behind many of Hana’s lyrical quips. For the aptly titled What A Year Today Has Been, she admits that she was attempting to avoid writing a contrived pandemic song – but in doing so, she realised just how much Covid had consumed her mental space. The lyric “I’ve been wandering the streets of my bedroom, desperate to take it all in” profoundly captures that aimless feeling of early-lockdown. A testament to her songcraft, the lyric transverses between normality and pandemic-times. 

Not only referencing the mind-numbing nature of lockdown, the track also captures the general sorrowfulness of coming of age, and not wanting to leave your bed for “other reasons”.  Hana identifies this as a vital aspect of her songwriting: “Finding images that are so specific that they are honest and true about my life, but universal enough that everyone who has ever been sad can read between the lines and find something to identify with”.

While the songs often knock you down with abject sadness, Hana never leaves the listener feeling wholly sorrowful. On the title track, she sings about a now-distant lover, musing “one day we’ll be living in the same old city, and I’ll say let’s start a band”. Throughout her work, Hana reaches out her hand and says, yes, it was sad, and yes, and it was painful – but there’s an adventure right around the corner.

Forever capturing the restlessness of the suburban teenage experience (notably in the tradition of Lorde’s Pure Heroine), Hana is always onwards-looking. Relishing in the maddening mundanity of suburbia, Hana wistfully gazes from her bedroom window, insatiably hungry for the big city on the horizon.

‘Holy Ground’ is often driven by angst, and at other times sounds self-involved. But frankly, who cares? The experience of being seventeen is messy, terrifying, and at the time feels utterly monumental. Distilling that into three brilliant songs is no mean feat.

Michael Anderson

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