HANA live–streamed the process behind her debut studio album, HANADRIEL, over four weeks on her Twitch channel. "Hanadriel," a portmanteau of HANA (real name Hana Pestle) and Galadriel (a character from the Lord of the Rings), is an apt title for the first full–length entry into the self–proclaimed "night elf songstress'" purple world of electro–pop and video game mysticism.
HANADRIEL, naturally, is geared toward its primary audience: gamers, or those who like to watch other people play them. It sounds like it was made to be background music to a gaming session. Clocking in at 52 minutes and featuring song titles such as "Arcane Magic," "Nu Leaf," and "Black Orchid," the album is a sometimes tiring, yet highly listenable summary of everything that has defined HANA's online presence up to this point.
An early highlight, "Creatura" would not be out of place on the Halo: Reach soundtrack. Like most of the album—likely because of the time–restraint within which HANA had to write, record, and produce the entire LP by herself—the lyrics here are not the important part. Instead, the listener's attention is drawn to the electro–futurism of the backing track and HANA's operatic vocals that glide across the song like an alien mothership.
Then, there's the slight accent with which HANA sings the word "creatura," rolling the last "r" and inflecting the final "a," thus tinging the track with an MMO medievalism. "Creatura" is a four–minute synthesis of HANA's aesthetic: purple and space–age ethereal with the slightest hint of neoclassicism, all within the context of a fantasy role–playing game, such as World of Warcraft. (If you Google "hanadriel," HANA's character page in the game is the second website to appear.)
Much later in the album, there's the surprisingly affecting "Cowgirl Bepop," a tongue–in–cheek riff on the classic anime Cowboy Bepop. Like her best friend and frequent collaborator Grimes did with the song "California," (done in the style of "future pastoral," a genre of her own creation) back in 2015, HANA seeks to bring country music into the future with "Cowgirl Bepop". Anchored by the strum of an acoustic guitar and HANA's voice drenched in misty reverb, the song washes over the listener like a calm summer night on the back porch of the farm from Interstellar.
Though the refrain is simple, "Hold on honey...We'll make it through," the words (with repetition) drip with a kind of Southern molasses–like authenticity. The droning synths, which rise like an obelisk in the song's final minute, neither contradict nor deny the down–home earthiness of the sentiment lying underneath. HANA has said that "Cowgirl Bepop" is about "depression, suicide, [and] anxiety." It's a strikingly real, human moment on an album that, despite its best intentions, can sometimes get lost in the fantasy of itself.
The one place where the album falls short is "Nu Leaf," which within the first minute is apparently an ode to her dog, Eevee, who hung around the studio as a comfort while HANA recorded the album. Of course, with the spritely blips that introduce it and its title, the track is also a reference to Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Though odes to animals are not inherently artless, per se, they can feel shallow, childlike, and naive, in comparison to songs about heartache and political protest, things which concern human affairs and the world around us. "Nu Leaf" sounds frivolous and naive, artificial even though it is sincere.
HANADRIEL, for all of its gamer aesthetics, is a moving, if sometimes flat, showcase of HANA's abilities as a singer, songwriter, and producer. It takes you away to HANA's e–world and brings you back, changed, to real life.