Anya Hinkle “Oceania”

Red Parlor Records, 2024

Flourishing in choppy waters, Hinkle’s strong songwriting and sense of self show she has no problem keeping her head above water.

‘Oceania’ is an area of the Pacific Ocean that is the only geographical region in the world with more water than land, and Anya Hinkle had this fact in mind when she decided to use it as the title for her second album; you see, having departed from her previous record label, the North Carolina-based, Virginia-born musician found herself somewhat – excuse the pun – at sea. But still, Hinkle was determined to realise her vision, so with the help of veteran producer Kevin Moloney, she forged ahead against the tide.

Although I think it would be unfair to characterise ‘Oceania’ as a concept album, as you listen, it’s hard not to notice that there are a surprising amount of songs that stick to a theme of the ocean: “A soul can’t hide / Five miles deep, ten thousand wide / A fearsome journey that only God’s got hands to guide / I’m bound away,” Hinkle opens on ‘Bound Away’ – a song she wrote while reading ‘Moby Dick’ – her voice light and airy against some beautiful pipes performed by Michael McGoldrick, a hint of excitement as she sings of the anticipation of the journey to come. ‘The Queen’s Ships’ is a sunny-sounding ballad about wealthy pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy, a so-called “Robin Hood of the sea” character who looted and pillaged all in the pursuit of love, while ‘Castaway’ see Hinkle trying to get to shore, and on ‘Anabel Lee’ – a reimagining of the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name – the titular woman is now a magical sea creature who emerges from the sea to marry, only to die and return to the depths of where she came, leaving her husband in mourning.

The sea-themed tales are well crafted, but Hinkle is perhaps at her most interesting when she explores outside that narrow window. One of the standouts, for example, is the bluesy, dark ‘Devil Chasin’ Me’, written by Hinkle in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the US Supreme Court, told from the perspective of a young girl fleeing her home to try and gain access to reproductive health care: “And I’m rollin’ down the highway / Winding like silver through the red clay / I got an angel and she’s prayin’ / I got a devil and he’s chasin’.” Heavy with slinky Spanish guitar, ‘Fortuna’ tells the true story of a Salvadoran child who sought asylum in North Carolina, only to cruelly face deportation and death (“We cannot choose where we are born / You can say we’re full, there’s no more room here for your tired and poor / If it were you you’d never stay / You’re not sending me home, you’re sending me to my grave”).

“Dark angel you’re nobody’s fool / You got my number and you can be so cruel,” Hinkle bemoans to the evil angel that haunts her dreams on gothic-tinged ‘Dark Angel’. “Dark angel have mercy on me / I need shelter, somewhere I can breathe / Get me through the night,” she pleads to the seemingly somewhat benevolent spirit. ‘Lucky No. 5’, with its driving beat and title a reference to a train that represents the passing of time, sees Hinkle effectively use traditional Appalachian imagery to produce something that edges towards psychedelic in tone. ‘Eitil Away’ (eitil translating as “to fly” in Gaelic), is a sweet love song that takes the adage of “If you love someone, set them free” to heart as Hinkle allows her loved one to leave and waits patiently for them to return: “When homeward waves reach these foamy shores / Their waters weep through every sandy grain / My love I’ll take you in these trusty arms of mine / Just for a moment til you eitil away.”

In the making of ‘Oceania’, Hinkle may have felt like she was fighting against the waves to get to shore, but with her vision clear and realised, she is safely back on land with some extra fortitude to face what comes next.

 

7/10
7/10

About Helen Jones 134 Articles
North West based lover of country and Americana.
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