Hand Habits’ Fun House Looks Inward Through a Redefinition of Their Sound

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The virtuosic Meg Duffy, better known to listeners as Hand Habits, is typically not this forward. 2019’s marvelous placeholder displayed their soft, intentional sound highlighted by Duffy’s impressive guitar work — it existed in a type of haze that allowed for their music to drift by, but still leave a lasting impression. After tours and collaborations with Perfume Genius and Weyes Blood, Duffy has returned with a riveting new album that sounds unlike anything they’ve ever done. Fun House is a remarkable display of honesty and identity alongside a fuller, intriguing sound with assists from SASAMI and King Tuff on the boards.

 

 

When lead single “Aquamarine” dropped earlier this year, it was a marked departure from what we had expected from Duffy’s long-gestating third album. Gone were the intricate finger-picked guitars, and in their place was an upbeat arpeggiated synth bassline that was more akin to New Order than Kevin Morby. Even with this abrupt change, this album is so much bigger than the “folk artist discovers a keyboard” sound that often plagues musicians — it’s a shift in a bigger, fuller direction that perfectly complements Duffy’s ethereal voice. No other track on the album is as aesthetically jarring as “Aquamarine”, instead adding these new flourishes in a way that expands their world rather than completely redefine it. “False Start” begins with a propulsive acoustic instrumental akin to the more active songs on placeholder, but midway through alongside harmonies, the chorus opens up with soft synth lines and strings that adds depth underneath. “Gold/Rust”, a late-album standout, has an aura to it that’s reminiscent of Big Thief at its start that unfurls into a towering rock song while still maintaining its hushed, lo-fi production. It’s a masterwork in tension and dynamics, with the flow of the song rising and falling as new sounds swirl around you. 

 

 

Lyrically, Duffy has made an effort to dive into their past and show a type of vulnerability that was previously hidden. “Aquamarine” takes a dark dive into their mother’s suicide, uncovering familial secrets previously hidden by tragedy. Their lyrics frequently explore anxious tension — “No Difference” vacillates between acceptance of loss and the fight to unify a broken relationship: “There is no difference between the two / Between losing and finding you”. Amidst this back-and-forth, there’s some understanding of resolution, but it’s laced with a profound sadness. “Graves” is another stunner of a song, with Duffy mourning “So is that how you see it? / Tying knots on a string / As if memories cure pain / Or is it easier not to say it?” before it leads into the heartstopping chorus: “Don’t go digging up graves / Why can’t you just let it lay?” It’s a beautiful mixture of being able to accept the end while also being sad about it, and Duffy’s lyricism is sure to resonate with listeners who find themselves in a similar situation.

Fun House is assured and meaningful, redefining Duffy’s world with the help of the friends around them. In a world where they could have continued charting on the same path that led them to success, they have instead looked inward and pushed their sound outward and made one of the most impressive collections of their career. 

 

 

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