Pop is a genre that’s very hard to pin down because of just how broad that classification is. The term “pop” changes drastically across time periods and even geographic locations, and music classified as pop can often fall into other genres as well. Over the past few years record label PC Music has become known for pushing the boundaries of what pop can be, and they’ve found another winner here.
“Hyd” is the self-titled debut EP by Hayden Dunham under the Hyd moniker, but it’s not their first rodeo with PC Music. In 2015 they came through with the instantly iconic “Hey QT” under the name QT, a song that is very much in PC Music’s wheelhouse of hyperpop, the experimental and maximalist take on electropop that have defined so many of my DJ sets this semester. The song is bright and polished to a sheen, with extremely autotuned vocals dancing over bassy kicks, it’s a really fun song. I bring it up here because while it shares some similarities with the tracks on “Hyd”, their fundamental approach to constructing a song has changed a lot over the past six years.
Let me explain. The actual instruments and effects that appear on the EP are classic hyperpop, lots of off-kilter synths and rapid-fire hi-hats, but they are used in a much different way. For a project with these tricks up its sleeve, the most prominent element here is actually the quiet. From the sudden stops at the height of the chorus on “Skin 2 Skin” to adding a thoughtful, pensive tone to “No Shadow”, restraint plays a massive role in this pop record, two concepts that don’t often go together. Songs are structured around this too, taking their time in building themselves up and slowly widening the soundscape before kicking into overdrive in the final minute. There are verses and choruses, but the instrumental is doing its own thing, treating the entire song as one long exhale.
The long sections where the instrumentals step back mean that the vocals become the star of the show, and they certainly perform under the spotlight. Dunham is working with a lot of conflicting vocal styles that are often used simultaneously, yet don’t clash at all. “The light defines us” is delivered with a robotic cadence while also sounding emotional and filled with wonder, and they often switch between husky and whispering to soaring and passionate on a dime. Lyrically there’s actually quite a lot of repetition, with a drawn out bridge of the line “Away from the light” repeated seven times on “No Shadow” or the multiple choruses in a row in the back end of “The Look on Your Face”. But unlike songs where repetition feels like it prevents the song from advancing, here it’s used to create mantras that drive
On first listen, this might be a bit of a surprise from a PC Music release labeled as pop by streaming services. It’s a pretty slow paced and restrained project that, when presented with the opportunity to go big and overblown, takes the reflective route instead. But if your opinions of what a pop record has to be aren’t totally set in stone, this EP will fit the bill, packaging its complicated themes and unorthodox structures into an easily enjoyable and rewindable experience. And if that isn’t pop then I don’t know what is.