album: placeholder - Hand Habits
words: Joel Parmer
Meg Duffy began their musical career in New York as a studio guitarist and touring member of Kevin Morby’s live lineup. Upon transplanting to Los Angeles, the session artist turned singer-songwriter and began working under the name Hand Habits. Duffy recorded the debut 2017 album Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) entirely at their own home studio in between touring that year. While the album is a fantastic debut and showcases Duffy’s ability to self-produce a low-key, yet polished full-length, it was just the beginning of something spectacular.
Fast forward two years and the evolution of Hand Habits puts Duffy front and center as a full-fledged band leader. Their sophomore, breakthrough album placeholder takes a much less DIY approach as it was recorded at Justin Vernon’s Wisconsin studio with several collaborators. Duffy has pulled Hand Habits from the back burner and set the project to a rolling boil, and they do it all without losing any of their charming songwriting sensibilities.
Placeholder is a diamond in the rough. With so many singer-songwriter turned full-band projects out there today, Hand Habits delivers a unique spin on indie-folk.
Throughout placeholder, widespread themes emerge and revolve around human relationships, the parallels of love, self-discovery, and growth. In an NPR album review, Duffy elaborates, saying, "A big aspect of my songwriting and the way I move through the world depends on my relationships with people. The songs on placeholder are about accountability and forgiveness. I don't fictionalize much."
While placeholder features fairly typical folk-rock instrumentation, the tender lines drawn between the album’s themes and compositions create twelve warm, memorable songs.
Kicking off the release with a title track, the album explodes with a rumination of shifting ‘placeholder’ points of view. Duffy’s dulcet voice functions perfectly as a smooth sailing lyrical vessel. This title track builds a cornerstone formula for what’s to come in latter songs.
In the song “yr heart (reprise)” Hand Habits rerecords a song from a previous release. Soaked in piano and strings, the song draws detailed portraits of human encounters with lines like: “I can feel you push your fingers through the fabric of all of my thoughts”.
Throughout placeholder, twangy guitar tones, tasteful slide guitar leads, and sparse but occasionally noodly bass lines spiral around a backbone of consistent drum performances. Duffy’s voice is the showstopper in this album, but upon each listen intriguing nuances sparkle across the board.
The final two tracks on placeholder, “what lovers do” and “the book on how to change part II” are truly special. They wrap everything together in an unforgettable fashion that must be heard a few times to fully appreciate. If placeholder has somehow slipped past your radar, do yourself a favor and listen now.