Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Public Storage, the debut full-length from Hana Vu.
Twenty-one-year-old LA-based singer-songwriter Hana Vu is most often categorized as bedroom pop, but with Public Storage, she’s definitely stepped out of that genre and into something new. Vu used to favor abstraction and sparse lyricism on her earlier EPs Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway and How Many Times Have You Driven By (which includes Vu’s biggest hit, “Crying on the Subway”). The production for those EPs often has Vu’s vocals at a distance, sounding like they’re underwater. With Public Storage, Vu’s debut full-length, she’s floated to the surface, head above water and vocals at the fore, tackling her most vulnerable and grounded topics yet.
Public Storage is about containment, the literal storage units necessitated by numerous moves for Vu and her family growing up, and the metaphorical: the boxes we are put in by strangers, loved ones and even ourselves. Standout track and single “Keeper” addresses this confinement head-on, with visuals and lyrics stressing the particular pain of not being seen by family, the ones who are supposed to understand us the most.
The voice narrating Public Storage is self-deprecating and even filled with self-hatred at times. But that speaker and Vu are not precisely one and the same; she told NME, “I didn’t grow up religious, but I always felt like, if there is some sort of God, he’s really mean. I felt this really punitive, oppressive force. I think the perspective [of the lyrics] is someone who’s just very self-loathing, because when something tells you that you do not deserve good things, or a happy life, then inherently people think there’s something wrong with them. That’s the perspective that I was writing from.”
Whether expressed with cathartic power (“Public Storage,” “Gutter”) or obfuscated with synths (“Keeper,” “I Got”), Public Storage asks heavy questions about self-worth, family and stasis. “What could I say that isn’t wrong?” Vu asks in “April Fool”; “Do you believe in failure?” and “Do you believe in family?” she asks on the title track, and answers both with “Because I don’t think that I do.”
At times Vu’s voice is still just a bit too polished, but on “Gutter,” the chorus reaches the climax other tracks feel like they’re building to, but don’t quite reach. There’s a rawness and power to Vu’s vocals here that’s not explored elsewhere on the record — which is fitting, because “Gutter” is the centerpiece of the album in every sense: its sonic peak, emotional center and the literal middle track.
“My House” keeps most of the energy of “Gutter,” but softens it just enough to begin the gradual comedown that is the back half of the record. At the close, the final track, “Maker,” speaks directly to that higher power Vu imagined, with instrumentals fit for Sufjan Stevens and Vu singing: “Save me, my creator / And I’m not clever enough to know better / I will crumble ’cause that’s my nature / Just like you / Can you make me anybody else?” The creator here is maker, taker, breaker — that malevolent figure Vu described, who can’t save you, even if you beg him.
Vu is poised for a breakout moment — she’s making music in line with the pop-punk revival that is influencing the listening habits of her generation. At the end of that interview with NME, Vu said, “I think I have a lot of room to just keep growing up.” But with Public Storage, she’s made something that masterfully toes the line between youth and maturity: It’s mature enough to be taken seriously with all the weight adulthood brings, but still seeps with the soul-crushing power feelings of isolation and misperception have when we’re young.
Theda Berry is a Brooklyn-based writer and the Assistant Editor of VMP. If she had to be a different kind of berry, she’d pick strawberry.
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