Album Walkthrough: Hermitude break down their new album, Pollyanarchy
Arriving at the tail-end of last month, this belated breakdown sees one of Australia's finest acts dissect their new record.
Hermitude are a duo that at this point, need no introduction. Since the early-00s, the pairing of multi-instrumentalists and turntablists Luke Dubs and El Gusto have grown to become one of Australia's essential hip-hop acts, blossoming alongside the gradual explosion of local hip-hop - and its intersection with electronica, where Hermitude are more recently known - as they swerve between soundscapes and genres. In the process, they've become one of the country's most versatile names, working with the glitchy beats that defined their 2012 break-out Hyperparadise to their work with rappers from Vic Mensa to Urthboy; regardless of what sound they approach, Hermitude knock it out of the park.
Their new album Pollyanarchy is a bit of a slow-burner. It's their sixth album, and arriving four years following the heavy, trap-rap-inspired Dark Night Sweet Light (a record that gave them an international success comparable to the famed Flume remix of Hyperparadise), it sees the duo take a bit of a step-back - albeit, only for a moment. It's an album focused more-so on vocal-led electronica rather than the productions that typically overshadow, with Hermitude using Pollyanarachy to move into a songwriting-esque role explored in glimpses across the past.
"What a blessing to connect with our idols and make a vocal focused record," they say on the record. "This album has given us the opportunity to flex our production skills in a different environment where the instrumental doesn't tell the full story. Collaboration was the key to finding the sound we wanted for Pollyanarchy." In the past, where heaving beats and glitching synth has often been left to define Hermitude's sound, you get the sense that they're now evolving and maturing into something that despite this, doesn't lose its edge. Hermitude are still there, they're just allowing others to shine.
Compared to the small scattering of guests on their last records, Pollyanarchy's long-winding collaborator list encompasses the many pockets of electronica that Hermitude work in. The Bibi Bourelly-assisted lead single Stupid World is climactic, yet focused on the dystopic outlook of Bibi's verses ("I don't think that my GPA says anything 'bout the way I think," she sings), while elsewhere, tracks warp and fit into sounds depending on the collaborator it includes: Vic Mensa's Dusk Till Dawn is rupturing and thick with their classic, hip-hop influenced sound; OneForThree - which features Buddy and BJ The Chicago Kid - tackle the funk-house grooves they're likely more acquainted with; while the Electric Fields-featuring closer Glorious is its namesake: glorious.
In a way, Pollanarchy is a vessel for Hermitude to platform those yet to find their feet in Australia; their strengths in tastemaking and curation shining through the record's broad-ranging, top-tier collaborators. The aforementioned Bibi Bourelly is a cult-adored R&B force in the US yet to touch down in Australia and acts like Vic Mensa and Electric Fields certainly have their audiences, but on the same page, there's acts just waiting to burst into the future: Soaky Siren from the Bahamas; Australian R&B rising-star Hoodlem and west-coast LA rapper Wes Period included.
Here, ahead of a national tour throughout November featuring a handful of special guests in Haiku Hands and Ninajirachi, Hermitude break down their collaborative return one song at a time, dissecting its creation and themes one song at a time. Dive into it below:
I think we always gravitate to writing one of these styles of songs on our records. A bit of a Vangelis type feel with some modern twists, this one came along early in the writing process. It was one of those ones we pretty much finished in a day! it just came out. We came back to it for one more session and it was done. Love those ones!
This had a really unique palette right from the beginning. The opening riff was the first thing we laid down and it blossomed from there. It always had a kind of dystopian energy to it. We sent this off to Bibi with a couple of other tracks and wanted her mainly to do Stupid World, but she wrote over two other tracks, they were cool (actually one of them was really cool - Phew) but we didn't have the vibe for Stupid World which we knew we wanted on the album, so we took Bibi's vocals from one of the tracks and put it over the music to Stupid World. The verse's fit perfectly and then we chopped up a bunch of her vocals and replayed them in to make the hook. Her lyrics really worked for the feel and emotion of the track, and our added chops, it was such a great moment when it all came together.
Funnily enough, this was the only record that was written out of the city. In the middle of nowhere in the bush actually, and it turned out to be one of the most lit songs on Pollyanarchy! Gusto had been listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix at the time and wanted to use that as a starting point. So we found a mad riff and just built it up from there, keeping that high energy. Then we had some vocals from Wes who we’d worked with earlier which sat perfectly on top. He’s a proper firecracker when he gets going so he was key to getting that song over the line.
This tune started out as a homage to 90s rave music. We put down that synth riff at the beginning just for fun, tbh from there it could’ve gone into Eurotrash territory lol. But then we flipped the drop into a triplet type feel and suddenly we realised we had a heater on our hands. We worked with Soaky in LA and sketched out a vague concept for the lyrics, kind of on that ride or die tip. She bought her amazing sound and also suggested Vory get on board who recorded his vocals remotely. Those two together was so drippy and it felt like they really connected with the energy of the synths.
So Phew was the other track that we sent to Bibi, and unlike Stupid World which we essentially remixed into a new song, Phew was just straight fire. We didn't really have to do much to the song once we got the vocals back, her style and fineness was all it needed.
Dusk Till Dawn
Dusk Till Dawn music was written the day after Phew's music so it's fitting that they sit side by side on Pollyanarchy. It was a real pleasure working with Vic Mensa on this tune. We're fans of his work and it was dope that we could link up while we were in LA and get down to work. We played him a bunch of tunes we were working on and when the beat for Dusk Till Dawn came on he grabbed a microphone and just started singing melodies over the top. His engineer had left the room for a minute and Vic was pissed when he found out that the melodies he was singing didn't get recorded. Luckily we were freaking with how good the melodies were and had started filming it on our phones, so the the vibe was saved and we got down to writing lyrics and finessing the melodies.
Most of the songs on Pollyanarchy are vocal outings so when this tune popped up we were excited to get another little instrumental flavour in there. We’ve always been fans of the Balafon so we started with that riff, but we also set out to make the drop a little different. Basically a soft drop. Something that can retain the energy of the intro, but be a bit more gentle and journey-like. We put a key change in there and chopped up a nice vocal and tried to keep lots of space. It’s a real dreamy number that gives you a little breather amongst all the features.
This session was all time, again working with BJ and Buddy was a great experience for us. The funny thing was Buddy got so blazed in the session he passed out after recording his first verse. BJ picked up were buddy left off and did his parts with ease and it was amazing being in the room with BJ when he was doing his thing, dude is an incredible singer (duh). But we needed the 2nd verse and we were heading back to Aus the next day, so we started turning the music up real loud until Buddy woke up. We were like dude are you good for a second verse? He just got up and stumbled into the both and let it rip. It was like he wrote that verse in his sleep. Incredible.
Let It Burn
Haiku Hands are our fam and we really wanted them on the record but we hadn't had the right beat show up for them while writing. We were on the Groovin The Moo tour together and I (Gusto) was like this has to happen and our album deadline was fast approaching! So I wrote the beat for Let It Burn on the plane between two of the Groovin dates and gave it to them to write to when they could. They sent me the demo a week later and it was pretty much what you hear on the album, we got in the studio the next week and cleaned it up together and bam, that was it. I think we finished it a week before we started mixing the record!
This is one of the first tracks we started for Pollyanarchy. We had been touring for a couple of years straight off the back of Dark Night Sweet Light and had this little house up in Mt Washington in LA, it was summer and the vibe was great, but we were a little homesick too. I think the song really represents both those feelings.
When we wrote the music for Glorious we knew we had a special song and we knew that it would make the album straight up. It was important to us that we get the right vocalist on board to take the song home. Enter Electric Fields. This was another remote session so we sent off the tune to see if they felt any vibes on it. We got a demo back from them a week later and I got a call from our manager Tim, he was like 'dude, check your email'. I remember driving home from the studio and playing the track on my car stereo, it was one of those moments, I got goosebumps all over and cranked the volume up. You live for these moments when recording songs and this was one of those.
SAT, 2 NOVEMBER - PERTH - METRO CITY
THU, 7 NOVEMBER - MELBOURNE - THE FORUM
FRI, 8 NOVEMBER - ADELAIDE - THEBARTON THEATRE
FRI, 22 NOVEMBER - SYDNEY - ENMORE THEATRE
SAT, 23 NOVEMBER - BRISBANE - FORTITUDE MUSIC HALL
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