Darren Hanlon – Hello Stranger

Darren Hanlon
Hello Stranger

Darren Hanlon’s debut full-length consists of 10 pop songs that bring to mind the whimsical, light-hearted music of the 60s with a modern bent. This Australian singer/songwriter evokes images of Billy Bragg, Jonathan Richman, and Evan Dando, but he takes a more pure pop approach. And that’s why not everyone will like this album, but pop aficionados will almost certainly love it.
The formula is rather simple. Hanlon sings and plays guitar, and those two elements are the prime focus. But the songs are filled out with the requisite percussion and bass, and unlike many singer/songwriters, Hanlon doesn’t mix his vocals high into the mix, instead letting them flow well with the music. He even brings in female vocals on “Cast of Thousands” to change things up. Occasionally piano, violin, and banjo are added to the songs to evoke a more serious mood, but for the most part, this is light-hearted music.
Take the opener, for example. An ode to curing the most overlook malady, “Hiccups” shines on Hanlon’s jangly electric guitar. “The Kickstand Song” is perhaps the first song written about a bicycle’s kickstand, and you can’t help but feel a childlike joy when Hanlon sings, matter-of-factly, “What joy you bring, piece of metal and a spring.” There are two songs centered around conversations: the more serious and emotional “He Misses You Too, You Know,” and the more playful and undeniably infectious “Operator…Get Me Sweden.” “Punk’s Not Dead” is not a punk song but rather another infectious, Lucksmiths-like pop tune inspired by a former roommate who used to play punk records all the time. That tune and “Cheet the Future” show the more mellow, acoustic guitar-driven sound of Hanlon, and the album closer, “The Last Night of Not Knowing You,” shows his serious side. A lovely, emotional, piano-driven track, this tune is the perfect closer, and it shows Hanlon’s vocal abilities much better than any other song here.
Hanlon has played with some of the more famous Australian pop bands recently, including the Simpletons, the Lucksmiths, and the Dearhunters, but he has shown that he can craft a fine pop album on his own. Unlike those bands, however, Hanlon explores his more childlike, exuberant side on Hello Stranger. It’s a nice, refreshing break from all that serious rock we get around here, and that’s why this is so much fun to listen to.