Sometimes the hardest person to be honest with is yourself. On “Whiskey,” Bristol-based singer-songwriter Lande Hekt runs through a list of questions that imply something in her life is amiss, each item in the interrogation shouldering more weight than the last. The true meaning of this DIY-punk-goes-alt-pop anthem is scrawled in invisible ink: To Hekt, the song represents the moment she realized she couldn’t keep pretending that she wasn’t gay. As the opener of her solo debut, Going to Hell, “Whiskey” epitomizes the highs and lows of Hekt’s first independent foray. After a decade as the singer and bassist of the punk-rock band Muncie Girls, she’s got hooks to spare. But as she reevaluates her life as a queer woman in solitude, Hekt occasionally stumbles into lyrical pitfalls that oversimplify the very messages these songs aim to prop up.
Written during Hekt’s coming-out period, Going to Hell captures what it’s like when queer pride in the local punk scene takes on newly personal meaning. Jolts of disbelief and self-doubt weave through “December” and “Hannover” as Hekt wrestles with her heart. “What if it’s you that makes me happy for once? What if I tell you that and I get no response?” she sings, her panic bolstered by a slosh of lo-fi pop-rock akin to P.S. Eliot. Realizing you’ve outgrown hetero culture in adulthood can feel surreal, like watching a model in a glossy ad being reverse-Photoshopped at hyperspeed. If Hekt experienced a similar revelation, it’s not directly discussed in these songs. Instead, she recalls the cold shoulders thrown her way—“Your friends from home start acting strange/When you try to be yourself for a change,” goes the title track—a very real, albeit fractional, part of a larger whole.
As welcome as it is to hear Hekt reflect on her burgeoning identity, the most commanding songs on Going to Hell explore personal feelings in service to a community. Atop Japanese Breakfast-style guitar pop on “Undone” or Sharon Van Etten-inspired finger-picking on “Winter Coat,” she sings about indulging self-pity and the restorative power of hiding away for some peace and quiet. It’s how Hekt copes when she gets inside her own head, and these vignettes—the feeling of sun on her skin while driving down the Autobahn, or the way she tries to recall why she started smoking cigarettes and can’t—give Going to Hell an aura of comfort. In these tiny bursts of joy and doubt, Hekt offers refuge for strangers navigating similar paths.
Although Hekt typically writes with clarity and poise, Going to Hell sometimes embraces cliché. Take the album closer “In the Darkness,” a straightforward acoustic ballad with an earnest motivational refrain: “I’m more powerful than you’ll ever know/’Cause I’ve got democracy and I’ll never let it go.” She originally wrote the song for Rebellious Sounds—an archive of feminist activism organized by the British charitable organization Dreadnought South West—after hearing a woman discuss her experience in the Czech Republic during the Velvet Revolution. Hekt’s song aims to transform that story into a broader call for women’s participation in community politics and organizing, but without any clue to the historical inspiration in the lyrics, the recycled platitudes feel flavorless and out of place. Intent alone doesn’t make great music, but it can lend an otherwise hackneyed sentiment the confidence required to resonate authentically. The trick, of course, is in saying what you really mean the first time.
Buy: Rough Trade
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