The visuals accompanying the singles off of enigmatic singer-songwriter Hana Vu’s latest release, Public Storage, feature an array of frankly disgusting images. They range from a yellowed greasy ear to a foaming mouth to a bloodied eyeball — all presumably captured by a Dorito dust-encrusted iPhone, the grating flash cutting through darkness to access something truly nauseating. Nausea is in vogue on Vu’s LP, coalescing into a debut that expertly displays the discomfort of youth.
Vu is certainly not one to shy away from niche source material for her music. In 2019, she released a dual EP inspired by Hollywood Reporter interviews with Nicole Kidman and Anne Hathaway. Public Storage marks a moment of literal and figurative transition, the title itself a reference to Vu’s frequent moves as a child and the storage units that accumulated along the way.
Structure is tantamount to the experience of the record, which seeks to compartmentalize, categorize and label the experience of growing up in a world seemingly perpetually on a downward spiral. But it’s also an attempt to parse some of the detritus that seeps through the cracks, be it mundane or existential. Vu has described Public Storage as being filled with “experiences that accumulate every year and fill little units such as ‘albums.’” This conceptualization of memory — its highly ephemeral quality, in particular — is especially adept and cements the record as one of this year’s more visionary releases.
With Public Storage, Vu evinces personal and generational anxiety about the future, though her apprehension is purposefully subdued. “Tomorrow is evil” she sings on the title track, one of the more introspective off the LP. Each emotion balances tenuously on unsure footing, with Vu unsure how to navigate the haze. “Aubade” is a furthering of this lyrical opacity, propped up by a bright pop instrumental and elliptical vocals. Vu’s low whirring recalls Okay Kaya, her voice a deceptively placid, protracted murmur. Its rawness is one of the few components of the record left unobstructed by inchoativity — rather, it bores straight through Earth’s mantle.
Transparency is nevertheless largely absent on Public Storage. Gilded exteriors recur throughout the LP, notably on the tracks “Everybody’s Birthday” (“All of my shame is painted gold and now I hold it”) and “Keeper” (“Oh, I dream in gold.”) In a broader sense, a veneer of some kind envelops the entire record. Youth, for all its messiness, still possesses an element of intrigue in the popular imagination, an intrigue that is very much separate from the banal realities of late adolescence and early adulthood.
“Gutter” is in many ways the culmination of Vu’s heightened, highly contemporary disaffection. The visceral bass line and emphatically lively beat kick up clouds of dust in their wake, dust that replicates the record’s bleakly wrought sentiment. On the following track “My House,” Vu excavates a similarly arid terrain: “And all living things, they fall on me/ And crush me into dirt,” she sings matter-of-factly.
Public Storage thrums with an undercurrent of dread that feels unique to Gen Z. Climate anxiety is perhaps one of the unspoken components of dread that the album manifests. Throughout the record, Vu disperses various attempts to say something about the enormity of nature (and the world more broadly) — an enormity diametrically opposed to the vanity of introspection. Vu is undoubtedly keenly aware of this contradiction, as she hints at on the title track: “Cause I’m vain and conceited.”
Personal malaise and everyday strife overlap with this existential, scaled-up friction to such an extent that the record can be difficult to sift through. Undeniably confident in her artistry, Vu steers away from tying up her themes in neat little packages; she instead opts for songwriting that keeps the listener at an arm’s length, clamoring for breadcrumbs of something tangible to latch onto. These more tactile moments are sparse, but when they surface, they glimmer profusely.
Contact Emma Murphree at [email protected].