The Musical Duality of Hannah Epperson

By: David Britton

I think it’s fair for me to argue that Hannah Epperson is one of the few artists working in music today who requires something of a preamble to her body of work. This is in no way due to a lack of accessibility on her part, quite the opposite: Epperson’s sound is so entrancing partly because of its structure and framing, representing a clear and ever present duality that demands the attention of its listener, far beyond what the typical musical landscape requires.

Now, for that preamble I alluded to: on her past two LPs, Epperson writes two drastically different versions of each of her songs, resulting in albums that contain enormous breadth and scope, both stylistically and technically. I strongly urge you to pause your reading at this point to go and appreciate the beauty of what she’s done, if only to better understand exactly what Epperson is up to here.

Back? Great. As you may have noticed already, Epperson is not content with simply drafting two different forms of her work. Instead, she formulates these pieces from the perspective of two entirely unique personas. The end result? Songs that appear as ghostly apparitions of each other; a more musical (and less murderous) version of Jordan Peele’s latest release. Epperson’s first persona, Amelia, is an infectiously bouncy individual, creating what I would affectionately call “Pop Goo”: a cull of organics, electronic whisps, and, most indicative of Epperson, violins and strings sprinkled throughout. For 2018’s Slowdown and 2016’s Upsweep, Amelia offers up her auditory visions in each album’s first half, inviting listeners into a production heavy affair, only for her döpelganger, Iris, to bring things to a haunting hault.

Where Amelia flits and floats through her aural spaces, conjuring the lackadaisical beauty of some youthful sprite, Iris is a woman pained, surrounded by a washed out collage of strings, largely lacking any type of electrical interference. The result is akin to a spider web spun out of glass; frail, sparse, yet ineffable in its raw, untouched beauty. And where Amelia only flirts with heavier emotions, Iris lives on them. In purely technical terms, Iris’ adherence to a modernized chamber music is her most distinct marking compared with Amelia, but this point of separation naturally bleeds into her emotional outpouring, evoking something much more personal and intimate, both through her arrangements and vocal deliveries.

Of course, these two modes of music are not a set of parallel lines. Slowdown in particular feels more like splashes of paint across canvas, each identity distinct at times, but occasionally overlapping to create some new hue for the listener to devour. No one is an island, and Amelia and Iris can’t help but bleed into one another, whether it be in one of Amelia’s more somber moments, or in Iris’ sudden careening into headboppable terrain. Indeed, one can’t help but feel at times that Iris and Amelia are directing their words at each other. Look towards “Cat’s Cradle,” from Epperson’s sophomore release: “Open your eyelids wider/She's standing right beside you” (we’re left to wonder, lyrically, just who Epperson is speaking to, or as here, in each of her identities’ renditions). The final result becomes a fantastic exercise in dissection: as each song and its mirror demand multiple, detailed reviews. Again, turn your attention to “Cat’s Cradle.” Each version, at a glance, can be loved and enjoyed on its own merit, as both offer a unique take on the same core songwriting tools: chords, overall progression, and instrumentation. But together, the songs are an incredibly rewarding deep dive into the overall power of musical generation. One feels the ebb and flow of each modal conjuring, offering a glimpse at what truly feels like two different people tasked with working with the same raw materials, but in vastly different ways.

Whereas the average musician muses on their identity, both as an individual and as a creator, Epperson seems to have found a way to throw the entire playbook out the window. She is not singular in her voice, in her production, or even emotion, rather she is a complex creature; a hive of cells and organs, capable of espousing two disparate sounds, simultaneous yet separate.