EP Review: dirt // Hand Habits


Hand Habits lay bare the process for consolidating their identity in their new EP, dirt. Throughout, they shed light on how they continually assemble and rearrange parts of themselves.

The directions seem simple enough: build, step back, choose the parts to keep and those to discard, implode the latter. Rinse and repeat. Thing is: it takes years of draining experience to make it look that easy. 

And Meg Duffy – Hand Habits sole member – is not lacking in the experience department. They picked up a guitar some ten years ago and haven’t set it down since. You’ve probably inadvertently heard them play on a Grammy-winning The War on Drugs album or on a Weyes Blood record. 

Maybe you’ve seen them play live at a Kevin Morby show. You might also have heard their home-recorded, self-produced debut or 2019’s follow-up, placeholder. Point is, they’ve been around.

In dirt Hand Habits take the idea of creation through demolition and apply it left and right, figurative and literal alike. Special attention is given to making past and present connections evident.

‘4th of july’ nods to the title track from Hand Habits’ previous LP (placeholder) by taking one of its most evocative lines and making it a central theme of the EP. “Both hands in the dirt” effectively summarises the process of digging for new frontiers to conquer. The line also serves to reflect the unrelenting task of looking for treasure in the rubble. 

‘i believe in you’ reconceptualizes a gem in the Neil Young canon. Following the cover’s release Duffy explained: “There’s a foundation, and where there’s a foundation there’s opportunity to reimagine structures; physical and otherwise”. The muddied arrangements take the After the Gold Rush track to unexplored grounds, but the new take’s pay-offs are comparatively minimal.

Not content with taking the opportunity to get their hands in the dirt themselves, Hand Habits give Australian noisy art-pop artist Katie Dey the space to raise new scaffolding around their placeholder original, ‘what’s the use’.

The remix is an exercise in reinvention that stretches the original track beyond recognition in now-traditional hyperpop fashion. Past the initial disconcertment, the track’s chaotic energy makes a nearly-compelling case for such experiments. Still, the song might have hit harder had Dey taken the pandemonium up a notch.

The short EP consolidates the idea that it’s entirely possible (necessary?) to build and deconstruct yourself with the help of others. Katie Dey isn’t the only notable collaboration on here: Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) and Sasami Ashworth (SASAMI) co-produce one track each. A greater body of work involving the two and Meg Duffy also has been hinted at.

The most successful partnership on dirt is undoubtedly Ashworth and Duffy working hand in hand on ‘4th of july’ to compile a slow burn crescendo that sees instruments and harmonies pile on progressively until a cathartic mid-point rupture. The song ends on a denser version of the opening motif, aligning beautifully with the cyclic build/pick apart pattern so central to the short collection of tracks.

We’re left wondering which parts of the EP will survive the inevitable wreckage as Hand Habits start work on future projects. Fear not—even the discarded pieces will feed the dirt to dig through for inspiration moving forward. 

dirt was released via Saddle Creek on 19 February 2021.

Image: Graham Tolbert

Words by Red Dziri

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