Record Review: Lena Hessels’ “Billow”

Lena Hessels is not the first 17-year-old to lock her self up over the summer and make a record. But this is not a typical teenager’s recording project, because Hessels is not your average teenager. She is the daughter of guitarist Terrie Hessels (a.k.a. Terrie Ex). She’s spent her whole life experiencing music making first hand and has already engineered her dad’s upcoming duo record with Ken Vandermark. Billow benefits from such technical assurance.

Shifting between churning, Fall-like rhythm guitar, vulnerably sparse piano and a sampler loaded with field recordings and accordion chords, Hessels creates settings that evoke foreboding. One tune sounds like a distillation of Mark E. Smith and Co.’s rhythmic merits, another like a funhouse distortion of a sea chantey. Her English-language singing transmits an uneasiness well matched to the ambiguity of her lyrics, which are long on imagery and short on concrete exposition. This 21-minute EP is a very strong first move.

—Bill Meyer