In April 2021, Sara L'Abriola went to a house party with her girlfriend. The scenario was fraught from the start, as the soiree was actually happening at the home of that girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. The situation soon deteriorated -- the girlfriend disappeared into the boyfriend's bedroom to, as L'Abriola later put it, "air griefs on the sheets you used to share." No good, right? It was, however, a crucial moment in the development of L'Abriola's full identity, in the acceptance of her id. Her jealousy, she remembers, suggested that of an alpha male, all-consuming and relentless. She needed to get the fuck out of that party, and fast. She funneled those harsh feelings not only into a sharp indictment called "Your Ex, Man" but also into a more masculine, more extreme side of her emotional self. She (they works, too, thank you!) calls it Hank, and you should, too.
Indeed, Call Me Hank -- L'Abriola's classically modern five-song debut under the name Hank, equally indebted to Brill Building pop and ultra-processed hyperpop -- is a prepossessing coming-of-age snapshot. Questions of sobriety, pronouns, maturity, and empathy show L'Abriola wrestling with who they are in real time. At 24, they wonder if they are ready to grow up and settle down or if they are too young to feel so old? Is staying sober the best way to deal with a problem, or should she rush out of that party house for "a shot and a beer"? Can a very hard break-up be a new beginning when it only feels like the end? In 16 minutes, Call Me Hank convincingly poses decades of questions threaded together by a single experiential credo: You gotta live to find out, man.
Speaking of life, L'Abriola lived a fascinating one before they found Hank. The kid of a jazz pianist in New York's rural Hudson Valley, they fell hard for swing music, especially the swiveling brilliance of Django Reinhardt. They toured the world as a swing guitarist while still a teenager before decamping to Brooklyn and enlisting as an instrumentalist with an au courant cadre of young songwriters there. First there was Gus Dapperton, then Samia, Del Water Gap, and Hippo Campus.
It was actually that last band that, after learning L'Abriola had started writing her first songs ever while off the road during the pandemic, helped convinced her to take them seriously. At the start of 2022, she flew to Minneapolis to collaborate with Hippo Campus singer Jake Luppen and his partner, Raffaella Meloni, on these early tunes. (She'd already started the great group Peach Fuzz alongside Samia, Meloni and Ryann.) That trio wrote, recorded, and wrote some more, eventually finishing the core of what is now called Call Me Hank. L'Abriola had finally found space, time, and inspiration to sort through who they were and wanted to be -- including long-standing ideas about gender identity -- by singing through those feelings. Hank became not an endpoint but a catalyst for self-actualization. Sara, meet Hank, and so on.
Just as Hank became part of L'Abriola, they soon found that Hank, too, contained multitudes. It's impossible to ignore that in these first five songs. The title track, for instance, hinges on the kind of sharp country riff Clarence White might have loved but offsets it with vertiginous synthetic strings and a beat that canters, corkscrews, and canters again. It's a song about being one of the boys -- riding motorcycles, jamming in the basement, covering Neil Young in the bar with some local roughnecks -- rendered in a sunbeam soprano. "Your Ex, Man" is like pop-punk reimagined by a ProTools native, cascading harmonies and squiggling electronics unspooling beneath their side of that party story.
There's a sublime piano ballad that's unflinching in its vulnerability ("One True Dear") and a playful interrogation of romantic insecurity ("All for You (Baby))" that feels like Alex G remixing the Moldy Peaches. It ends with the fathoms-deep "Guilt Trip," an attempt to survey the dividing line between youth and adulthood, or between who we are and who we know we might someday be.
Hank represents L'Abriola's home for such ideas and, more broadly, the extreme sides of their personality. They admit that Sara is the one who will smile and tell you everything is OK. Hank, however, is the hard-ass, the one who will write a song to tell you that "airing griefs on the sheets you used to share" is a terrible thing to do to the person waiting outside. Call Me Hank is only the first batch of those feelings, a songwriter's opening salvo after two decades as a guitar ace. L'Abriola is now working on a full-length debut that amplifies those personality poles through the story of a gambling fiend, Hank, who endures the dizzying highs and terrifying lows of addiction. This is the foundation for a fuller exploration of self, rendered in character. More on that soon; for now, what a riveting start.