Switched On – Hazel Mills: The Embrace EP (self-released)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Hazel Mills has built up an impressive body of work as a keyboard player and backing vocalist for Goldfrapp, Florence + The Machine and Blur’s Dave Rowntree, appearing on his fine album Radio Songs from earlier this year. As a live performer she has recent stints alongside Hannah Peel on her Fir Wave live dates under her belt, and is currently performing with Will Gregory’s Moog Ensemble in Australia.

This EP represents her first dip into solo waters, exercising her songwriting talent on a quartet of tracks that by her own admission take Eurythmics, Kate Bush, Steve Reich and Delia Darbyshire as part of their inspiration.

Joining Hazel is multi-instrumentalist TJ Allen and drummer Alex Thomas, while Gregory and Tim Bran add extra synths to Fragile Creature and Enclosure respectively.

What’s the music like?

Richly evocative and full of character. The well-chosen songs follow a theme of nature vs modernity, and form a self-enclosed unit. They show Mills to be an impressive and urgent writer and vocalist.

The crushed velvet production of Enclosure is matched by Mills’ descriptive vocals, a combination of euphoria and regret. The Embrace is a complementary ballad, full of yearning and with more than a little drama. Mills’ voice has elements of Kate Bush for sure, but Alison Goldfrapp and Tori Amos are also to be found, while her work on the live circuit has given her a strong sense of timing in the musical storytelling.

Hold The Water is poised but tense, the multi-layered voices set against a harmonically restless, stuttering groove. Fragile Creature is certainly that, but there are hints of unrevealed menace, the wordless sighing of backing vocals adding an icy edge to the picture.

Does it all work?

It does. There is much to savour here, and repeated listening – preferably at volume – reveals impressive attention to detail in the sonics and the production, as well as the depth of Mills’ vocals.

Is it recommended?

Enthusiastically. Fans of all the acts mentioned above will want to hear this, for Hazel Mills has an original voice and intensity. It will be interesting to chart her progress for sure.