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Hana Vu - How Many Times Have You Driven By EP Music Album Reviews

On her first official release, the 17-year-old songwriting prodigy offers a set of slickly produced electronic dream pop tracks whose streaks of misery feel discernibly teenage.

Small acts of public vulnerability feel radical today: crying at the supermarket, crying on Instagram, crying at the club. With the megaphones in our pockets, we have grown accustomed to amplifying our personal sadness, to subverting the idea that emotional excess is weak or wrong. “Crying on the subway send tweet” is about as universal as human sentiments come. Hana Vu wrote a song about that.

“Crying on the Subway” is the lead track from her EP, How Many Times Have You Driven By, a coolly minimal collection that the 17-year-old recorded and produced on her own. Following three-and-a-half years of self-released material from Vu—who has used Bandcamp like an emotional diary, in the vein of Frankie Cosmos and Soccer Mommy—How Many Times is her first release for the label Luminelle Recordings (run by the folks behind the still-kicking MP3-download-era blog Gorilla vs. Bear). Her version of bedroom pop is one that clearly aspires to a slick, sophisticated level of production, like that of Jay Som. Vu’s primary mode is electronic dream pop with streaks of misery that feel discernibly teenage: “I’m always on the phone/I’m always doing nothing,” she sang on the 2016 album Sensitive, which included a collaboration with Willow Smith called “Queen of High School.”

How Many Times spans such styles as loungey downbeat pop and yearning indie rock balladry, but it is all tied together by a charmingly droll vibe and Vu’s deep, soulful voice. Her elliptical sensibility makes “Crying on the Subway” more subtle and restrained than you’d expect. The song doesn’t convey the claustrophobia so typical of city music, like Chandra’s “Subways,” nor does it contain the gut-wrenching despair of girl-group weepers. Instead, “Crying on the Subway” is emotionally vacant in a way that feels real. It is a muted daydream with a wobbly bass sway, the sound of quiet longing and a resigned single tear, of a person who really is trying to just get by. “In my dreams I’m in that gray room/In my chest I’m feeling dark blue,” Vu sings, evoking the colors of her mood music. “Take the red line into downtown/I’m trying to escape you.” Her richly layered vocals feel like a long sigh, like infatuation steadily deflating, like a cold stare. The entire song conveys loneliness and comfort at once.

Across the minor keys and twinkling chords of How Many Times, Vu sings about mundanity, failure, disappointment, and fear. “426” has a melancholic, retro shuffle with shades of Lana Del Rey cool. “Cool” is Vu’s understated loner anthem about hiding out and staying home to work on yourself: “It’s OK to be alone/’Cos I’m gonna make it happen,” she sings. “Gonna make it perfect/Better than it has been.” When Vu proclaims, wisely, “I’m tryna make it cool/....Don’t tell me that I’m wrong/’Cos ain’t nobody right,” it feels like her personal aesthetic thesis. The focus of How Many Times attests to it.

On the whole, Vu’s knowingly detached vision feels cohesive, and her productions shine. But in terms of lyrics and melodies, nothing else on the EP resonates quite as strongly as “Crying on the Subway,” and often the smoothed edges threaten to turn these songs into chilled-out indie muzak. When the rapper Satchy adds a sleek verse to “Cool,” their voices sound complementary, but it’s a bit of a disruption. Still, How Many Times is an intriguing glimpse of an artist at the beginning of a skillfully carved path—even if it leaves you wondering what it was that made her cry in public in the first place, what makes her tears dry.


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