A dissection of an abusive relationship, Half Wolf employs the use of a fuller sound and vibrant melodies to explore a multidimensional point of view on her latest track “Cigarette Smoke.”
Listen: “Cigarette Smoke” – Half Wolf
The beginnings of a new moon cycle lead to one fantastic truth: it’s time for Half Wolf to emerge from the shadows, even if for only a short while. Half Wolf’s Hannah Westerholm made a commitment to herself that she was to only release music on new moon cycles, and she has not disappointed thus far. Her ethereal debut into the music scene with “Pretty Lonely” was a personal anthem of sonic brilliance, the track exploring isolation and the fluidity of emotions. Westerholm returns this time around with “Cigarette Smoke,” a personal tale of an abusive relationship and the empowerment that comes from escaping that situation.
As the first few seconds of the track begin to play, it’s immediately clear of the differences “Cigarette Smoke” has compared to “Pretty Lonely.” With the former, lone acoustic balladry dominated the track, creating a slow but powerful rhythm with an almost whispered presence. Westerholm subverts expectations with “Cigarette Smoke” by providing a full-band experience, bellowed vocals, and brighter melodies that all coalesce into a brand new, but equally captivating, experience. Drumbeats, tambourine chimes, and a vibrant guitar melody all accentuate the almost celestial vocals of Westerholm, joining her as she begins to paint the vivid imagery of her story through song.
I got my clean hair
smelling like cigarette smoke
And I just don’t know where this is gunna go
but you offer me another
And I just can’t say no
“You’re 17 years old in the passenger seat of your first boyfriend’s 2007 maroon Saturn ion. It’s summer, so you cruise with the windows down and the music up on the back dirt roads of North Dakota. He lights up his fourth cigarette in ten minutes and whines for you to smoke with him” details Westerholm to Atwood. “You say, ‘No’ because you know better and don’t like to be told what to do. He rolls the windows up and lights another. You close your eyes and hold your breath as long as you can. You glance at the clock realizing you’re 45 minutes late to family dinner. And you want a cigarette.” Her first verse already captured this sentiment with pinpoint accuracy, showcasing not only her lyrical wit but her penchant for poignant storytelling.
“I wish that I never got into this car/ you and your good ideas/ rolling the windows up,” she croons with a whisper, but as soon as “rolling the windows up” is repeated, she grabs that final world and unleashes a harmonic bellow that will send shivers down the spines of those listening. She continues to intone with a slight ache in her voice, eliciting feelings of pain but also those of unmatched beauty. Moments like these are where Westerholm shines the brightest, letting her vocals enrapture listeners as soothing melodies sweep them away to the landscape she has carefully crafted for the world to explore.
There’s something hanging in the air
I won’t say shit ’cause I’m too scared
I’ll just pretend we’re two lovers
not destroying each other
And you don’t want me to go
and I just can’t say no
As the track continues, the backing melody has slight moments of strength, the bassline acting as a gorgeous tour guide through the tune, undulating with a delicate touch. As the second chorus approaches, folk cadences begin to emerge and are featured more prominently. “You got my love/ you got my lungs,” is roared with impassioned fervor, providing the perfect example of the musicality Westerholm possesses, her resonance leaving jaws-dropped and eyes glistening. At the track’s close, things begin to soften in pace, gently bringing listeners down from the dreamscape that has just been created. And with one lasted fainted verse, this story of power, abuse, and the trials of it all comes to close.
Maybe I’m denying myself the pleasure
of wanting something I can’t have
And building up pressure
One day I’ll explode
blowing cigarette smoke
With only two tracks under her belt, Half Wolf has already done more than enough to show just how strong of a presence she has and can bring to the music world. “Cigarette Smoke” was a surprise with its larger sound, one that exceeded expectations in a gorgeous fashion. The next moon cycle won’t be until another month, but if Half Wolf continues down this same path, the wait will most certainly be worth it.
Listen: “Cigarette Smoke” – Half Wolf
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