Album Review: Megan Dixon Hood – East Of The Sun

Megan Dixon Hood – East Of The Sun

Indie Pop | Baroque Pop | Progressive Pop



Most of humanity’s stories began as a way to understand the world around us. Generations of dreamers and storytellers let their imaginations run wild to find some explanation for all the aspects of the Earth’s vast beauty that were beyond their understanding. Every sermon about clashes between gods and titans that echoed across ancient amphitheatres, every lingering folk legend about what lay beyond the woods that made villagers’ blood run cold, every whimsical bedside fairy tale told to sate a child’s curiosity. An endless list of ideas about the natural world, but all of them showed nature the reverence it deserved. The beauty of being a part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and the fragility and fleetingness of our place in it all, acting as two sides of the same coin. For every tale of gods painting a sky full of stars, there’s one of them acting cruel and callous, as a way to explain how harsh and random nature can be. For every story about magic and heroes and wishes coming true, there’s the Grimm Brothers’ version that features such horrors as to be the stuff of nightmares. 

As mankind progressed, our imagination and creativity ultimately turned elsewhere. Our understanding of our surroundings grew and the world became a far smaller place. Where once we saw in the dark unknown corners something to be feared and respected, we then saw opportunities to be exploited. As a result something was lost along the way. It turns out knowing and understanding are two different things. We may know what lurks in the woods, but we don’t truly understand what would be lost were we to cut them down. We all should know by now the havoc we’re inflicting unto our world, but it seems few understand the price our hubris will bring unless we change our ways. The world will endure long after we destroy ourselves; though we may carelessly wound mother nature, a wounded animal backed into a corner is at its most dangerous.

Fusing passionate environmentalism and a deep love for folklore and mythology, Megan Dixon Hood’s long awaited debut East Of The Sun draws on the storytellers of ages past to warn that perhaps our ancestors were right to fear the woods. Tracks like ‘The Garden‘ and ‘The Wishing Tree‘ play like old tales of the fae, conjuring imagery of twisted roots full of age and wisdom. Synths that shimmer and dazzle like a fairy’s wings, the glittering beauty a mere glamour hiding the darkness beneath. Megan’s ethereal vocals like some bewitching forest nymph trying to lure you to your doom – one whom you’ll gladly follow regardless.

When not building a mythology all her own in her lyricism, Megan interweaves a wealth of fables into her work to reward those listeners who delve deeper. Album highlight ‘St. Lucia’, with its twirling uplifting chorus and powerful closing refrain of “take us in your open arms“, named for the patron saint of the blind and guiding light in the bleakest winters. The way ‘Hanged Man’ launches from its gentle beginnings into something far more wild and chaotic, with Earth-shaking dance drops and haunting wails of “we are fools and dreamers, starry-eyed believers” – a Tarot card often interpreted as a sign to change your ways.

But East Of The Sun doesn’t just shimmer and dazzle and offer subtle allegories, it burns with an incredible inner fire. It doesn’t mourn the passing of the old world, it displays the drive and resilience needed to fight for a better one. Nowhere is this more evident than in the glorious one-two punch of ‘Warpaint’ and ‘Athena’. The former provides mystical soundscapes and thunderous drums as a backdrop for Megan to flex her astounding vocals, from melodies dancing like raindrops in the spring sky on the pre-chorus, to an enchanting siren song building up the tension, to a powerful and passionate war cry at the songs’ close. Fiery feminist anthem ‘Athena’ meanwhile offers the album’s most engaging and emphatic chorus that roars into life with such lionhearted self-assurance.

However deep you choose to delve into this album, there is always hit after hit waiting at the surface. A level of grandeur and bombast that goes toe to toe with the likes of Florence + The Machine and Aurora. As much wild reckless abandon as there is haunting beauty. The synth driven dance elements and electronic flourishes that Megan has gradually introduced to her sound over the years wrap the songs’ deeper meanings in an infectious and accessible outer shell, one as vibrant and opulent as a Fabergé Egg. Occasionally the balance is a little off, and the fierce forest pop gets overshadowed by glittery dancefloor beats. The drops at the end of ‘Hanged Man’ in particular can feel a tad jarring, sounding like a impromptu club remix and losing some of the album’s heart in the process, but for the most part it’s an immaculately produced and structured pop record. I do also wish however that more of the gothic folk influences found in Megan’s earlier releases had found their way onto her debut. I think the odd dark piano ballad to offer a change of pace would have made the album’s biggest anthems like ‘Third Lung‘ and ‘St. Lucia’ shine all the brighter.

Ultimately the greatest strength of East Of The Sun is that whatever story you want it to tell is the one you’ll find. It all depends on what you go looking for. It can be an impassioned environmentalist protest record, standing defiant against a world sleepwalking toward the brink. It can be a fantastical fairytale concept album, weaving whimsy and wickedness into an enchanted woodland. Or it can be bop after bop, a nonstop conveyor of delightfully addictive and danceable tracks, lavish pop escapism at its finest as you twirl across your bedroom floor imagining a starry sky above and a vibrant jungle canopy at your feet.