Album Review: Hyd – CLEARING

[PC Music; 2022]

Hyd’s much-anticipated debut album CLEARING, released on PC Music, covers familiar ground the label is revered for but brings the bubblegum pop era into something more sinister and brooding. Imagine Caroline Polachek (one of Hyd’s collaborators, with co-write credits on this album’s opener and closer) singing in a cemetery filled with colourful, internet-obsessed pop-ups jumping out to scare you. However, the record never really strays into full-on goth or horrorcore. Hyd’s lyrics are still about sombre loves or the low lights of a lost relationship, while the melodrama brings death and destruction in as themes – but there’s no vampires or ghouls. That’s unless you count the ghoul of pop music that haunts over the record, half showing itself but never really making an identifying statement.

Early highlight “Fallen Angel” is a romp that recalls labelmates Planet 1999 with very morbid, Bauhaus-esque overtones. The swaying chorus is almost like a blink-182 breakdown but lo-fi and heavily Polachek’d, with Hyd not quite belting it out but inviting you to sing as loud as you can.

Lead single “So Clear” could have been produced by Flume, in fact those duties were handled by EASYFUN and the late, great SOPHIE (one of Hyd’s co-conspirators in the act QT, with A.G. Cook). The instruments crescendo with a tearing synth while Hyd’s soulful, melancholic high notes blend perfectly to create something post-choral. “Breaking ground”, another single, is the track closest to something Charli XCX would release in her recent spate of making PC Music twinged pop tracks; its anthemic chorus comes with added sass and bouncy synths left, right and centre.

“Chlorophyll” is a real departure from the rest of CLEARING, revolving around a fuzzed-up guitar, which Hyd complements with vocals that throw back to grunge; it’s like a PC take on a song from Kid Cudi’s rock album Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven. As it jubilantly descends into early millennium thrash, Hyd seamlessly glives over the top like a Gen Z friendly Courtney Love.

“Glass” returns to something more of a ballad, but, coming after “Chlorophyll” it feels like a bit of a return to safety. “The Real You” rescues things with Hyd’s best vocal performance. An exquisite and slightly different vocal sells cute lines about their crush’s “sci-fi books in bed”, while the beats start downplayed and then build up to the chorus which comes with a standard-issue A.G. Cook/EASYFUN/Danny L Harle high-pitched synth (it is in fact SOPHIE and Cook who lay claim to production here).

We’re then back to slightly unfamiliar territory with “Bright Lights”, but it actually wrong-foots has no crescendo – how weird. This trend follows onto “Only Living For You” which is a classic Hyd ballad that you can get totally lost in.

Last track “Afar”, co-written and produced with Polachek, is the closest thing Hyd is going to offer us as a more traditional pop song. It could have been on Madonna’s Music and identifies heavily with the early 2000s muffled sounds and bouncey drum pattern anyone born before 1996 will find very nostalgic.

On the whole, CLEARING is a success but I can’t help but feel a number of the beats and instrumentals were throwaways from the PC aficionados like A.G. Cook and EASYFUN, while a lot of the SOPHIE cuts must have been sitting around for a while – though you can understand the desire to use them. Hyd is the star of the show though, catapulting the record above the sum of its parts despite the very familiar ground of a large number of the tracks.