Posts Tagged ‘Placeholder’

Meg Duffy - Five Favorite Records

Los Angeles via upstate New York songwriter and guitarist Meg Duffy has been involved in many great indie rock records of the past decade. She has recorded guitar and slide guitar on The War On Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding, William Tyler’s Goes West, Weyes Blood’s Front Row Seat to Earth, and their former touring mate Kevin Morby’s City Music. But with Duffy’s solo vessel Hand Habits, the virtuosic guitarist steps away from the sidelines for their best work yet. On the just-released Placeholder, Duffy’s second album under the moniker, the patiently composed songs are filled with sharp emotional acuity, like on the title track, which looks back on a dissolved relationship, or the intimate and vulnerable

Hand Habits is Meg Duffy’s solo project assisted by a “continuous amoeba” of friends when performing live. She has spent the last few years touring in both Mega Bog and The Kevin Morby Band, and created Hand Habits as an outlet for her own interests and self-exploration. The result is a collection of droney tunes that languidly lumber to their conclusion with Meg’s soft, reassuring voice and sparse, echoing instrumental work.

Band Members
Keven Lareau – Bass
John Andrews – Drums and Backup Vocals
Meg Duffy – Guitar and Vocals

Session Tracklist
1. Flower Glass
2. The Book On How To Change
3. Actress
4. All The While

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Meg Duffy’s music seems to exist in miniature, but it’s not for brevity or lack of complexity. Just the opposite, in fact: Recording as Hand Habits, Duffy pays scrupulous attention to detail in songs that function like intricate dioramas.

On Placeholder, the singer (who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns) contemplates the fragility of human relationships and the hard-to-stomach reality that many of the people, experiences and places we’ve loved are only stepping stones on a journey of self-discovery.

“A big aspect of my songwriting and the way I move through the world depends on my relationships with people,” Duffy writes in a statement about the album. “The songs on Placeholder are about accountability and forgiveness. I don’t fictionalize much.”

After a string of bedroom demos made their way to Bandcamp in the early 2010s, Duffy became a fixture on a burgeoning Hudson Valley DIY scene alongside acts like Florist and Bellows. (Duffy was raised in Albany and attended college in Schenectady.) With momentum building, they chose to place Hand Habits on hold, leaving the Northeast for Los Angeles to play guitar with songwriter Kevin Morby’s live band. After several years of touring, Duffy signed to indie label Woodsist and, in 2017, released Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)a tender, captivating solo debut.

A gorgeous progression from Wildly Idle, Placeholder captures Duffy’s transfixing intimacy in elevated form. While their earlier work was entirely self-produced, Placeholder was recorded at Justin Vernon’s Wisconsin studio. Duffy’s vocals find new confidence amid gentle guitar strumming and warbling pedal steel, blending into a haze of dreamlike Americana. These songs evoke waves of warm, pop-driven nostalgia, with equal doses of melancholy and optimism.

The album’s title track captures the musings of someone scorned but not dejected. Duffy displays an adept ability to see their own duplicity, never resolving to pin blame on someone else: “Oh, but I was just a placeholder / A lesson to be learned / Oh, but now you’re just a placeholder / For someone wasting time.”

In “yr heart [reprise],” Duffy sings of a phone call to a distant lover with an almost Patsy Cline-like lilt: “And you are far but not that far / I can feel you push your fingers / Through the fabric of all my thoughts.”

The record’s furthest sonic wandering point arrives in a minute-long brass interlude in “the book on how to change part II.” Duffy leaves us with a proverb that doubles as a euphoric moment of clarity: “The book on how to change / Wasn’t written in one day / The book on how to change / Never taught me anything.”

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Meg Duffy of Hand Habits wrote their forthcoming record as wildfires burned through Southern California. For an album about love and relationships, it’s a fitting setting; there’s something inherently destructive in making space within yourself to bring someone else in. the new track is premiering “What Lovers Do,” the newest single from Placeholder ( via Saddle Creek Records) and a lulling, frank revelation on the complexities of desire.

Over gentle guitar, Duffy muses about the attraction between lovers, describing it as “halfway with your hands into the fire of my desire.” As the song plays out, it’s clear the relationship isn’t a smooth one, and feels more like a series of games. But the draw between the two continues to feel magnetic, and Duffy nonetheless, sounds sweet and warm in the retelling.

“Hesitation, revelation, and repetition-aspects of the story you can identify easily, and must be the witness and the participant,” Duffy writes via email. “When the shame baton gets passed back and forth between parties, who is the fool? I could never claim to have a complete understanding.”

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We’re honored to premiere the video for the achingly beautiful and poignant new single from Kevin Morby’s guitarist  Meg Duffy, aka Hand Habits, taken from their stellar forthcoming LP “Placeholder”, coming soon on Saddle Creek Records. Directed + edited by Vanessa Haddad, the vid stars Meg as a vampire who ponders the painfully real possibility that we’re all cursed with certain deep-seated familial patterns that we’ll never be able to shake.

Meg has never had a problem flooring us with devastating lyrical turns of phrase (the opening line from Hand Habits’ debut LP immediately comes to mind), and the profoundly articulated and relatable conceit at the center of “Can’t Calm Down”  “what if I can’t calm down and i don’t have that in my bloodline?” — is a heartbreaking reflection on what Meg refers to as “ancestral damage”:

“this song took the longest lyrically for me to finish. i started it about 3 years ago and kept it in progress throughout different cycles of feeling. ‘ancestral damage’ and learned behaviors and conditioning to react/hold and place certain emotions are patterns i’m interested in taking part and understanding better. what can one do with rage? with pain? with sadness? and is it is possible to learn how to wipe away completely the knee jerk reactions to situations that are buried deep in one’s dna? and the role models that taught us how to behave, whether directly or residually…are they the ones who should be held responsible or is memory partially to blame?”

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As productive as screaming into the void can be, sometimes the most effective way to air grievances is simply with a sigh. Meg Duffy, who has been the longtime lead guitarist for The Kevin Morby Band, switched her focus to Hand Habits in 2017. Duffy’s second album, “Placeholder”, leads off with the title track, a soft yet scathing lamentation of being secondary.

“If you’ve ever held someone’s seat in a theater, if you’ve been a bench warmer, if you’ve ever placed a reserved sign on top of a tablecloth, if you’ve been an ‘extra’ or a ‘stand in’ for something, you’ve experienced what being a placeholder feels like to some extent. You observe,” Duffy says.

The song wearily recounts the age-old story of being someone’s fallback, with Duffy growing more frustrated throughout the song. Additional vocals from Hannah Read (Lomelda) and wry guitar build, until the narrative is flipped — the agitator is now the proxy.

The Hand Habits project emerged after Meg moved to Los Angeles; it started as a private songwriting outlet but soon evolved into a fully-fledged band with Meg at the helm. Hand Habits’ debut album, Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void), was released by Woodsist Records in 2017. The LP was entirely self-produced and recorded in Meg’s home during spare moments when they weren’t touring. Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) is a lush, homespun collection of folk songs that found Meg in an exploratory state as an artist moving out on their own for the first time.
Two years later, Hand Habits has returned with their sophomore album, placeholder, due out March 1st on Saddle Creek. To make this album, Meg chose to work in a studio and bring in collaborators, entrusting them with what had previously been a very personal creative process. Over the course of 12 tracks, Meg emerges with new confidence as both a bandleader and singer. This album is as tender and immediate as anything Meg’s ever written, but it’s also intensely focused and refined, the work of a meticulous musician ready to share their singular vision with the world.

Hand HabitsPlaceholder from the album Placeholder

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