Credit: David Doobinin
by Andrew Bosma Ledger Line Music

Juliana Hatfield | Blood

June 22, 2021

Blood will be a familiar record for Hatfield fans, but one wholly reinvigorated by the artist’s response to the recent sociopolitical landscape.

Keeping her prolific streak going, Juliana Hatfield returns with the devilishly-titled Blood, a follow-up to her previous record of original content, Weird, and her cover albums that have peppered release lists with much-deserved fanfare over the past couple of years. With Hatfield’s latest, replete with her signature stylings and a tight runtime, there’s a lot to enjoy and little time to do it.

Lyrically, Blood finds Hatfield contending with a variety of topics, including struggles with uncertainty about her safety, as the album was primarily recorded in her home during the pandemic, and anger directed at fascist political icons and consumerism, a familiar target from several of her earlier records.  She plays nearly every instrument on the album, casting a haziness over her identifiable sound,  as fuzzed-out guitars take the lead, occasionally glitching and soaring not unlike an ‘80s hair classic. Her voice remains as clear as ever, dual-layered and mixed at many points to be the focal point of any given track.  This sonic precision and intelligence is what makes her solo music, as well as the multiple groups she’s a member of, so enticing: here, these feverish elements gel into a cohesive sound and vision, produced with clarity so as to keep an eye on her messaging. It’s a familiar mode for Hatfield, and on Blood she turns her criticisms of the previous presidential administration into an aural texture, the instrumentation creating a murkiness that matches the lyrics’ preoccupation with the taxing mental state many of us endured over the past four years. 

But the record’s political fodder isn’t used merely to express personal woes; rather, Hatfield pitches it as a wounded expression of hope for future generations, and it’s in this specific feeling that the album finds its footing. Indeed, it’s something of a salvation for Blood; despite the technical acumen, there can be some admitted blurring from track to track (also seen from album to album across Hatfield’s discography) as her go-to-the-well approach to theme and sound can leave her work feeling recycled in its less inspired moments. It’s part-and-parcel of the catch-22 that many established musicians (especially those with distinctive sounds) must battle against: to produce a new work that is recognizably of the artist or to push toward new territory. It’s not a complex dilemma to understand, but that doesn’t mean there is a roadmap to the right answer. Striking the right balance is often key — whether for critical appraisal and commercial consumption — and that’s exactly what Hatfield manages on her latest, supporting her ruminative lyricism with an intelligent, wily sound, and vice versa. It’s on the strength of this that Blood proves to be an engaging listen for anyone familiar with her work, but even more impressively, this far into her career, a record that works equally as well as an entry point to her catalog. Hatfield should relish the W, but let’s hope it doesn’t take another miserable quadrennial to inspire Hatfield’s next great effort.

Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2021 | Part 3.