A second collection of glorious covers from Our Lady of the Music Box
Irish born and Liverpool based Hannah Peel might be best known as the synth playing violinist and singer of John Foxx & The Maths, and you might have caught her on tour with OMD or East India Youth, but on her new mini-album, ‘Rebox 2’, her roots feel closer to electronic/folk musicians like Patrick Wolf or Owen Pallett. And you can’t help feeling that she’s toying with representations of femininity here, perhaps most obviously by choosing to work with music boxes. These instruments recall clockwork jewellery boxes, tiny ballerinas revolving on springs, never stepping outside of their prescribed ornamental role. Peel mathematically hole-punches her own music box cards, subverting the restrictive connotations of the form to create intricate, unique compositions.
This set comes as a follow up to 2010’s ‘Rebox’ EP, which featured covers of Soft Cell, New Order, OMD and the Cocteau Twins, all reinterpreted in Peel’s idiosyncratic style. After this, she released her acclaimed debut solo album, ‘The Broken Wave’, followed by two further EPs. Now, with ‘Rebox 2’, she’s turning her attentions to some rather more contemporary songs, punctuated by some truly beautiful instrumental segues.
Anyone of lesser talent would probably have made covers like these sound twee, but Peel’s compositions are on another level entirely. ‘Rebox 2’ opens with a version of Perfume Genius’ ‘Queen’, which sets out her direction here very clearly: the cutting homophobic insults that form the lyrics are contrasted delicately with a melody played on a hand-cranked music box.
The music box comes to the fore in ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ too, defiantly standing out amongst synths and keyboards, brash against the fuzzy percussion. John Grant’s song is all harsh sounds and chugging rhythm; this adaptation takes on the spectres of the title, creating a haunting atmosphere with layered vocals in echoes upon echoes, yet still retaining a sparseness that reflects the insubstantiality of spirits and memories. ‘Palace’, from Wild Beasts’ ‘Present Tense’ album, lends itself perfectly to Peel’s minimalist treatment, and in ‘Heaven, How Long’ she takes on an East India Youth track and adds soaring violins: where the original felt like a wind-up, this version is a cooling down, an opening out, a cathartic close to the record.
The songs selected here were all originally recorded by men and hearing the lyrics from a woman’s perspective can shift our perception of the meaning drastically, but the instrumental pieces also play with gender roles and expectations. In ‘Let The Laughter In’, Peel’s chuckle becomes a rickety beat, contorting the girlishness of her giggling through rhythmic repetition. The result is infectious and the laughter falls further into artificiality; yet still the track retains a vitality and a freshness that can so often be absent from beat-based electronic music.
Hannah Peel has made something very rare in ‘Rebox 2’ and her forthcoming full-length should by strongly anticipated. This is a collection with heart and soul and intelligence – and because of all these things, it knows exactly how to draw you into its world. And how to keep you there.