As music continues in its ebb and flow of freshness, artists are constantly finding new ways to cement themselves within the scene. It seeks to be evocative, but not too moody; it aims to challenge convention, but not be too polarizing. It should tell an intriguing story, while embarking upon a journey of musical and (or) personal discovery. A perfected duality of equable sounds and relatable lyricism is tirelessly sought, and becomes the ultimate goal for any artist.
With this in mind, one may be inclined to seek out artists such as James Blake or even the young Elliott Moss; but what if there was somebody else? Oli Hannaford, a UK artist whom Atwood has covered previously, is precisely that somebody else. Hannaford, whose single “Lily” was released earlier this summer, was previously described by Atwood as “successfully manag[ing] to harbor a sanguine harmony, seamlessly bringing together silky smooth vocals, beatific instrumentals, and inspirative lyricism.” This rings true with the rest of his debut EP, Free Things, as well.
Free Things, released on September 30th on major streaming services, is an amalgamation of Hannaford’s trademark sanguinity, offering a short-but-sweet collection of the best he has to offer so far. The EP is Hannaford’s journey to date; it is both fervent and demure, an unlikely dichotomy of impetuousness and modesty that presents listeners with tracks that are transient and addictive.
The EP opens with Hannaford’s debut single, the eponymous “Free Things.” “Free Things” represents and marks the beginning of Hannaford’s musical journey: as an artist, he was still exploring his sound; as a person, he was still discovering himself. That’s not to say that his prowess is not still evident within the song, as the track’s built-up instrumentation and melodic harmonies create a well-rounded and explosive opening track that passionately introduced Hannaford to the world.
Listen: “Free Things” – Oli Hannaford
Following “Free Things” is “Focus,” a post-break-up tune about trying to find the good in a bad situation. The temperate track is a deeply personal one, and Hannaford himself says:
“‘Focus’ looks at a break up I had, and tries to draw positives […] After an insight into my emotions and the frantic nature of them after such a phase, I talk a bit about focusing on things that matter, and although I didn’t explicitly say, I meant things that matter forever.”
“Focus” discovers itself as it progresses: starting slow and soft and allowing Hannaford’s baritone vocals to shine, and later evolving into a technically solid, beautifully emotive sonic narrative. The instrumentation remains somewhat reserved throughout the track, with Hannaford’s impressive vocals radiating at the fore.
The third track is “Lily,” which Atwood Magazine previously discussed following its release earlier this summer. “Lily” is wholly inimitable: seamlessly blending together its bouncy guitar riffed, steel drum infused, electro-pop sounds to create a dreamy and quixotic backing track to accompany Hannaford’s full-bodied, distinct, and intoxicating vocals. The track warmly embraces struggle, serving as a reminder that everything will ultimately be okay in the end — just remember to breathe.
Finally, the EP closes with “Lust,” a bouncy, beatific tune that represents Hannaford’s progression as an artist. Its flouncing backing track — a distinctive guitar riff that will ultimately be stuck in one’s head for days — accompanied by Hannaford’s harmonies create a well-rounded tune that shows maturity and depth. It feels entirely distinctive from the eponymous opener, “Free Things,” but for good reason: “Lust” is Hannaford’s most recent piece of writing and production; his musical journey has ultimately led him to this place. Hannaford notes:
“I wanted [“Lust”] to be an indicator of the kind of direction I’m going in. […] Overall, the EP starts from where I [began], comes through my education of production with me, and ends with where I am now.”
As a debut EP, Free Things is an impressive indie treasure, serving as a beautiful sonic reminder that life is oft a delicate journey, but not an impossible one. Each track on this EP even mirrors this sentiment, as they present Hannaford’s own journeys, both musically and personally. Free Things is a narrative about life and love and all that comes with it, and ultimately creates and curates a matchless ability to balance the highs and lows of these (free) things.