Album Review: Lande Hekt - Going to Hell
The first part of this—the introduction, if you will, or at least, how I write my way into the review—all of the hundreds or sometimes thousands of words that come before I start actually talking about the record in question—the first part of this, originally, was going to be about convergences. That idea, as a descriptor, or whatever, when I write about music, is something that I fear that I am beginning to overuse—similar to ideas, or descriptors, like ‘evocative imagery’ or ‘shadowy, ambiguous lyrics,’ or ‘shimmery guitar tones.’
But what I realized is that, yes, there is a convergence that occurs on Going to Hell that needs to be explored, but within the album, the things that are exponentially more important are the kind of small, but terribly thoughtful and poignant observations made throughout. From the moment it begins, and builds, until the moment it ends, it’s a record that, of course, is deeply rooted in the idea of the ‘self,’ and learning who you are, but also who you were, and who you might be—and along with that, it’s a record that is about the circumstances you’ve found yourself in presently, as well as in the past, and possibly in the future.
She never really hits you over the head with it, but across the album’s 11 songs, Lande Hekt—the frontwoman for the Exeter-based pop-punk outfit Muncie Girls—uses this solo outing (her debut full-length released under her own name) as chance to personally reconcile with a number of things—most pressing, but not most apparent thanks to the veiling that occurs, is her sexual identity.
Going to Hell isn’t a ‘coming out’ record, per se, but Hekt’s realization that she is gay, or rather, her decision to stop pretending she isn’t gay, is at the heart of the album, specifically in the album’s slow building and explosive opening track, “Whiskey,” where she sings, “Is it whiskey? Is it beer? Is it all the things I fear?,” in the song’s opening line; then, in the final lyric—“Is it saying goodbye to who you were back then? Is it the feeling of not having to pretend?”
Written and recorded, surprisingly, before the pandemic set in, there is an immediacy, a need for intimacy (both platonic and romantic), and a sense of wistful longing in a number of these songs. It’s a gorgeous, thoughtful, fun, urgent, and infectious record with sentiments and revelations that reveal themselves slowly, and deliberately, the more you sit with it and actively listen.
There are times within contemporary popular music, specifically ‘pop’ music, that there is a convergence, or a space that forms a theoretical Venn diagram of sorts—a place where styles, or aesthetics, overlap in similarities, and Going to Hell is one of those albums, that, whether intentional or not, is based around the merging of different elements to form something blissful in its exuberance.
If Hekt, and this album, Going to Hell, are in the center circle of the diagram, the circles that surround it, with the album forming in the convergence and overlap, are myriad shades of ‘pop.’
The idea of ‘indie pop,’ w/r/t this record is not that surprising—it is, maybe, the first thing that came to mind as I began playing Going to Hell; what is surprising, though, about this element, is the lengths with which Hekt is able to take her sound to. “Whiskey” is far from a slow burning, or simmering, opening track, but over the course of the song’s nearly four minutes, she is methodical in the way she allows the instrumentation to build—beginning with just a strummed, effected electric guitar, before the ramshackle drums begin to keep time, then, eventually, as it nears its conclusion, bass and a second guitar playing a lead riff kick in, allowing the song—already an anthem, lyrically—to reach enormous, powerful anthemic heights musically.
She is able to, almost effortlessly, repeat this same thing on the album’s second track, the nervy, frustrated “80 Days of Rain.”
Overlapping slightly within the circle of ‘indie pop,’ but pulling away quickly into a space of its own, are the elements of ‘dream pop’—woozy, gauzy, and swooning, that Hekt constructs a number of Going to Hell’s songs from—and it’s this sound, or aesthetic, that, as the album continued to unfold, came as a complete, but very welcomed, surprise.
The dreamy atmosphere arrives on the album’s third track, “Hannover”—and Hekt wastes no time cultivating that aesthetic, with the ethereal trails that swirl around her guitar strums, the inclusion of a tambourine jangling in the mix, and sharp, precise sound of the drum kit.
‘Dream pop,’ as a genre dates back practically 40 years at this point, so the inclusion of it in her sonic palate is more of a broader homage, rather than the direct influence of specific artists; though in some moments, there was a slight feeling of familiarity in the way she employs these sounds—like the highly energized and bombastic “Undone,” or the shimmer of “December.” I was immediately reminded of the stark, swirling glistening beauty of Means to Me, the 2019 downcast, dreamy album from Long Beard, and through subsequent listens, especially the explosive nature of “Undone,” called to mind Fake it Flowers, from Beatrice Laus’ bratty, dizzying alt-rock project Beabadoobee.
Within these specific moments, Hekt is, again, methodical and particular about her arrangements and instrumentation, and even with the iridescent nature, she never loses control and lets them drift into completely ethereal territory.
Sometimes it is difficult to articulate the difference between contemporary popular music, and ‘pop’ music, and even between the two of those, there is an additional convergence. When you think of ‘pop’ music, you think of Top 40 radio, or marquee name performers that are seemingly not interested in artistry, but are more focused on spectacle above anything else.
When you think of ‘pop’ songs, an album like Going to Hell probably doesn’t come to mind at all—though take one listen, and you’ll hear why it should.
Even before talking about the heart of her lyrics, Hekt shows over and over again the knack she has for pop hooks in her songwriting—the sheer memorability and enormity in some of these songs is breathtaking, and her ability to take the feeling, or traditional structure, of an infectious ‘pop’ song, but dress it down within her indie, dreamy choices in instrumentation is impressive to say the least.
Traditionally, there is a simplistic nature to ‘pop’ music, and it isn’t even so much a tragic flaw in Going to Hell, but it is just something that I, with enough listens, began to notice about a handful of these tunes, and that is in those convergences, and the spaces that form in between, there is a lot of repetition of ideas (most notably in “Whiskey” and “80 Days of Rain.”) It isn’t a bad thing—not at all, and it really doesn’t take away from the songs, or make them any less thought provoking once you begin to unpack the lyrics.
This technique, at least is those two specific moments, makes me wonder if it’s intentional, or at least a subconscious decision on Hekt’s part as the songwriter, where she plays the idea of a song’s structure, or with the simplicity of what is within the song, as an additional instrument.
Even more surprising than Hekt’s interest and inclusion in dreamy soundscapes, or her superb pop sensibilities, are the fragments of plaintive beauty found within her lyrics—and the thing is, as I sat with Going to Hell more and more, is that the beauty can even come from within moments where you wouldn’t expect them to—again, subconsciously, perhaps Hekt is playing with the idea of specific phrases or imagery, and giving them more weight, or emotional gravity, than one would anticipate them to have.
Like on the sneering “80 Day of Rain,” where Hekt, with her thick, charming, English accent, frustratingly sings a lyric like, “Is this just another week where we don’t fuck”—is the same song where she, almost seemingly as an aside or a throw away line, sings, “I can’t do this again.”
But there is something about the despondent desperation with which she deliveries the line that resonates very, very loudly.
That kind of thoughtful resonation within her lyrics runs throughout the album, perhaps most noticeably in the escalating series of questions (with no answers) in “Whiskey.”
With the conceit of “Whiskey” being about Hekt’s sexual identity, as ambiguous as it might be at first listen, there is an added amount of emotional heft within the song as she is unrelenting with the questions—all of them continuing to build off of one another w/r/t their urgency. “Is it knowing when you’ve had enough? Is it knowing when you’re not going to fall in love?,” she asks in the song’s second line. “Is it all the drinks you bought? Is it maybe worse than you first thought? Is it the scream? Is it the shout? Is it wondering who’ll be next to bail you out? Is it working too much—is it not enough? Is it wondering when someone will call your bluff?”
The first ‘verse’ or portion of the song ends with the loaded question, “Is it wondering if you can do any of this anymore?”
There is, throughout Going to Hell, a kind of lonely longing for connection to others. And with that feeling in a number of the songs, it did come as a bit of a shock to read in the album’s liner notes that it was recorded at the start of 2020, just on the cusp of the world being thrown into upheaval. Because now, approaching a full year of living through a pandemic, all a lot of us know is a lonely sense of longing.
“Is it meeting someone who’s not into bands? Is it weird that they still understand?,” she continues in the second ‘verse,’ which is where that emotional heft and longing is most apparent. “Is it watching videos of you and your friends? Is it the third message in a row that you’ve sent? Is it saying goodbye to who you were back then? Is it the feeling of not having to pretend?”
Even for someone who isn’t grappling with their sexual identity, there is not so much an accessible or universal idea within “Whiskey” that resonates, but there is a quiet truth that if, like me, and like my closest friends, you might be a highly sensitive person, and there is a truth within that you completely understand.
During my initial, early passes through Going to Hell, upon its release, there was no question that it appealed to me, but there was a specific instance, during the song “Undone,” where the impact of the album—on all of its levels—really hit me. It’s when Hekt sings the line, “I wanna stop being miserable—I think I used to be fun. I wanna put myself back together, ‘cause I’ve come undone.”
“Undone,” one of the most youthfully exuberant tracks on the record, is one of many that feature surreal lyrics touching on those wistful, lonely feelings and that desperate need to make a connection with someone else. “I wonder if I’ll see you again,” she shouts during the song’s explosive refrain. “I wonder if you’ll ever feel alright. I want to be someone you know.” “December,” another one of Going to Hell’s dreamiest tracks, is based in similar lyrical territory, though Hekt turns it into more of a plaintive, anxious love song. “What if it’s you that makes me happy for once? What if I tell you that and I get no response?,” she asks, right before the refrain arrives—“What if no one ever falls in love with? What if someone already has, and they never tell me?”
“December,” much like “Undone,” references a seemingly never-ending search for a happiness that might not exist, or at least, the never-ending sprint to try and outrun your own sadness: “It was December, I wasn’t feeling so well,” she begins in the song. “But am I ever? Oh, I hide it so well. I can’t remember what it was that made me happy, or if I ever was.”
Going to Hell doesn’t so much lose momentum within its final three tracks, but Hekt intentionally shifts the tone as the album comes to a close, focusing primarily on, at times, a more somber aesthetic and overall, more acoustic, skeletal instrumentation.
“Candle” is one of the album’s gentlest songs, both in terms of the way it sound—a delicately plucked and strummed guitar that is mirrored through a clean tone as well as distortion—as well as its lyrics, which are among the most tender, and outwardly thoughtful. Taken as what appears to be a dedication to a friend who is expecting a child, Hekt uses the song as a way to express her anxieties over how the baby will both change her friend’s life, but also how the baby will impact their friendship. “I always lean on you—you always say the right thing. In two days, your baby’s due—how will I o the right thing?,” she asks in the song’s second verse. Then, near the end, the line that is perhaps the most impactful in the song, and among the most effecting on the record: “Don’t think I love anyone as much as I love you.”
The album concludes with the protest anthem, “In The Darkness,” originally written for the British activism group Rebellious Sounds—but arriving after the big, strummy titular track, it feels less like a proper closing and a little more like an afterward, or something tacked on as an ‘extra’—it doesn’t detract from the album’s quality, really, despite how overly earnest its empowering lyrics can be, but its low energy, arriving after two other acoustically focused songs, brings the once brash and rollicking album to a somewhat slowed down, quiet end.
If the embracing of one’s queer identity is perhaps too cloaked in ambiguity in “Whiskey,” by the time Going to Hell wraps up, the cloak is gone. “Going to Hell,” the song, built around enormous, cutting acoustic guitar strums and the punky, English sneer in Hekt’s voice, doesn’t waste any time attempting to hide the conceit—“You’re doing fine and you’re doing well but the Catholics think you’re going to hell,” she sings in the song’s opening line; then, shortly after that, “You want to find love, but you won’t need permission from the God above—your friends from home start acting strange when you try to be yourself for a change.”
The song then, as the rest of the instrumentation comes stomping in, becomes the album’s real anthem—perhaps not as powerful musically as some of the songs arriving before it, but at least in the emotion, and sentiment, it wants to convey. “I live my life for other people,” Hekt bellows. “Not in a good way—in a really shit, fucking way.” And, much like the series of increasingly urgent questions asked at the beginning of the album—questions that really never are answered, the album comes to an end in a similar way. “I’ve always been scared of what people might say. Can you help me find another way?”
For an album that finds most of its successes in gigantic pop hooks and an indie pop, guitar driven snarl, Going to Hell’s finest moment arrives early on, and is the first time on the record where Hekt intentionally shifts the tone and pacing—the pensive, acoustic “Winter Coat.”
Gently plucked guitars, damn near reminiscent of “Fly” by Nick Drake, cascade as Hekt delicately sings the song’s cutting, dramatic opening line—“I feel the distance from my friends like a winter coat left the wardrobe for all of spring and summer.” And it, like a handful of other instances across Going to Hell, is hard to believe that this record, or a reflection like that is not a product of the last year spent in a pandemic induced isolation—but it isn’t. It’s just a lyric that has taken on an eerie, new meaning now that it is out in the world.
And even when a song takes such an insular turn, like “Winter Coat” does, Hekt is able to write in a memorable, almost hypnotic hook to the refrain, regardless of the song’s overall level of bombast—and it is perhaps the set of lyrics that impacted me most on a personal level, and it is, perhaps, the moment during my initial listen through Going to Hell that I knew I had come across a really thoughtful, important record that is worth really listening to—“Hang my worries around my neck; it gets harder to walk with every step. I think that I can predict this—you’ll become one of the people that I miss.”
Indicative of the genre, or classification of pop-punk, Going to Hell doesn’t overstay its welcome, managing to craft 11 songs in a little over a half hour. And it never truly risks overstaying its welcome, even when the originally brisk pacing truly does slow within the final three songs, or when you begin to notice the lyrically repetitive nature of some of the songs—it’s best not to overthink a specific, technical songwriting detail like that, and it is better to focus on on the details within the songs, and what Hekt’s message, or intent, is, or what that repetition allows that message to do.
Throughout the desire to learn about one’s ‘self’ on Going to Hell, and the space where genres and styles converge, there is also a balance Hekt strikes between the emotional weight written into these songs, the personal details she choose to reveal within them, and the inherently shimmery, energetic, and downright fun music those heavier elements are paired with. That is, alone, a difficult balance to strike, and Hekt makes it look easy. The internal conflict of her own ‘coming out’ narrative could keep someone at arm’s length, or could create a challenging record that is far less accessible than this, but Going to Hell is a thoughtful, beautiful, and welcoming listen, that provides the space for the listener to get caught up in sheer enjoyability of the music, a space to reflect inward with lyrics, and the space where those things, for you, eventually converge.