Music Reviews
Public Storage

Hana Vu Public Storage

(Ghostly) Rating - 8/10

There’s nothing like the torment of young adult self-consciousness. Can you still remember the taste of copper on your tongue when you saw your first ex with somebody new? Or the pinch in your stomach when you moved away from home, caught your parents’ faces in the rearview mirror? The text that took three hours to write, days to languish in your drafts, a second to send, and weeks to regret? That was the time of life when every emotion was magnified to its highest intensity, every action scrutinized until it was threadbare. The constant tug of war between unearned pride and undeserved embarrassment, carefully contained under an easily penetrable veil of nonchalance—that’s the shaky ground that Hana Vu briefly stills on Public Storage.

Steeped in alt-rock and new wave influences and "you can't prove this is about you" vagaries, Vu's full length debut is just the right balance of melodrama, defiance, and inhibition—all the hallmarks of adolescent angst. Public Storage isn’t particularly personal, at least not lyrically. In fact, there is a clear lack of intimacy and vulnerability that would go hand in hand with true emotional depth. Vu doesn’t really let us in, but how many 21 year olds do? For some, that’s exactly what makes the music accessible, easier for their own experiences to slot into. And though others may find it harder to engage for the same reason, there’s an odd advantage that the emotional distance gives to the album’s atmosphere: her detachment props up the disaffection. 

Far from the full-on emotional reckoning of Fiona Apple or the raw vulnerability of Lucy Dacus or Mitski, Hana Vu plays with the space between words and verses to pull the listener into her state of mind. The best tracks don’t stand out because they’re poetic or insightful, but because of how strongly they invoke that discomfiting contradiction of youth. 

The feedback that opens and closes Gutter, the anxious heartbeat thrumming beneath the synths of Anything Striking (or the spare piano building up tension midway through)—these are the moments that make the record, underscoring the interplay between hard and soft, fuzzy dream pop and heavy grunge. When on Aubade, the drums part way to leave nothing but synths and vocals, it’s not the pretty but distant lyrics (made moreso given the homage to Philip Larkin’s poem by the same name?) that make you hold you your breath: When I close my eyes/I have a new place/Somewhere you can find me/Somewhere to be/If you say tonight/I'll have a new face/Someone with a bright eye/Nothing like me”; it’s the drums recovering on the next line (Cover up and hide/I never wonder if you'll ever find me/I can just see”) that make you realize you were holding your breath in the first place.

For a record that is, in essence, dedicated to compartmentalization, Public Storage owes its name to the storage units Vu became accustomed to over a lifetime of frequent moves—this cohesion is unexpected. From the start, there’s a nearly imperceptible shift from the timorous piano on April Fool to the gritty drum and bass of the title track, on to the retro electro-pop of Aubade. Three tracks and two genre-shifts in, it’s a wonder how well the pieces fit together. Vu’s voice is a connecting thread, a honeyed contralto as distorted and disconnected as her affect, doubled onto itself and pulsing with uncertainty. 

If any track’s lyrics evoke the same feeling as the music, it’s the eponymous Public Storage. Perhaps at her most self aware, Vu belts out her anthem, an attempt to impress. “Here's my receipt/Here's all my records, I'll show you/Everything that I've got to prove,” she says, before immediately capitulating in the most painfully relatable way:And that's what I'll say/When I'm talking to you/Maybe you feel the same/I don't care if you do.” What better encapsulates the inner turmoil of early adulthood than the delicate dance of showing vulnerability while maintaining your cool?  I think she does care. I think you will, too.