Portland singer Charlie Hilton and her band Blouse have consistently found themselves in KEXP's watch list for rising talent. Blouse played Iceland Airwaves back in 2012 behind their first record, then toured extensively behind Imperium, their second, including a great stint with Dum Dum Girls. This year, Charlie branches out for her first solo record, Palana, out last month for Captured Tracks. Herein, Charlie not only continues to prove herself as a fantastic songwriter, but also debuts a complicated and highly relatable character, Palana, who this week, we got the divine opportunity of getting to see live for the very first time. On Thursday night at Barboza, Charlie Hilton and her current supporting band made their live debut, kicking off a West Coast tour of five dates. And with Seattle duo Phaedra kicking things off, Charlie's Palana live debut couldn't have been more mystifying.Seattle synth pop duo Phaedra have been on the rise for the last couple years, culminating in a delicious and free four track EP this past fall in partnership with clothing company Kit & Ace. Phaedra float inside the same spectral bubble as acts like Purity Ring and Grimes, laying fantastical lyrics and prominent vocals over hip-hop induced electronic beats. The pair kicked off the energy at Barboza in excellent fashion, playing through their EP and some new material (one track of which I swear samples the fairy voices from Ocarina of Time), kicking off a night of siren songs with a bang.
Charlie Hilton's Palana exists in a universe entirely separate from her flagship band, Blouse. With this release, the Portland songwriter chose to make something incredibly personal, taking its namesake from Charlie's Sanskrit birthname, and detailing (over the course of 10 or so songs) the present state of atmosphere in which Hilton finds herself. The record goes from punchy ("Pony") to sweet ("100 Million") to longing ("Long Goodbye") to floating ("Funny Anyway") and everywhere in between. It's a record that feels well inhabited by its narrator. Instead of telling stories or persuading the listener to a point of view, Palana offers an impressionistic snapshot of a woman in constant state of movement. It's a beautiful and haunting piece of work.
Even with a change in setlist and presentation, the wispiness of Hilton's stage personification remains. Much as she is with Blouse, here, she's a spirit from another time and another place, swaying to and fro in swanky 70s garb with a mod bob bouncing along to the beat. Alternating between a bright pink Telecaster Thinline and woodblock, Charlie navigated her new album in her most commanding and solitary presentation yet. And still, she occupies a safe distance, balanced cleanly somewhere in a celestial consciousness, apart from the weight of the world and any tether to pull her down. Making her way through most of Palana along with two yet unheard songs, Charlie floated forwards and through the room, haunting every one of us with warm and subtle grace. Her backing band sounds fantastic, consisting of Arian Jalali also of Blouse, plus drummer Thomas Mabus and Nathan Weber. Ending her set with Palana cut "The Young", she sings softly, balancing melancholy and perspective with a cool confidence and a wayward smile. "All our work will travel on and leave us nothing to drink from. But this is not the time to be alone and worry - it might mean something to the young." Maybe it will, Charlie, maybe it will.
Palana is out now on Captured Tracks. Grab "Pony" for free on KEXP's Song of the Day podcast!
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