It’s a total coincidence that Muncie Girls singer Lande Hekt’s excellent debut solo album Going to Hell came out on the same day as Russell T. Davies’s extraordinary new Channel 4 drama It’s a Sin, but the two share a surprising number of similarities. Each is a powerful story of not just coming to terms with your sexuality, but also that embracing who you truly are enriches your life and the lives of those around you. There are moments of heartbreak and poignancy, and certainly tremendous difficulties to be faced along the way, but they’re also both a lot fun – and that’s kind of the point.
Hekt’s songs always have disarmingly impactful lyrics, and her talent with words is on full display on opening track Whiskey. The song charts her experience of learning how to come to terms with being gay, and the journey of self-questioning she went on by literally asking herself the same question in a hundred different ways, finally culminating in her asking herself ‘Is it saying goodbye to who you were back then? Is it the feeling that you don’t have to pretend?’ The song holds a lot of its instrumentation back, restricting itself to a single palm-muted acoustic guitar, slowly bringing in other instruments before finally erupting with a screaming guitar solo to close it out – a cathartic and triumphant ending to an incredibly important journey.
Bizarrely second track ’80 Days of Rain’also shares DNA with another Russell T. Davies series, Years and Years, using that show’s bleak vision of our environmental future – in which the UK experiences 80 days of rain – as a lens through which to explore climate change. Once again though, Hekt is exploring it from a deeply personal perspective. She explains that the song isabout “moving away and missing someone, and how that person taught me to get angry about climate change”.
This idea of missing people, and perhaps feeling a distance between you and your friends keeps recurring throughout the record. On ‘Winter Coat’ she sings of how she’ll see her friends again ‘when time apart has made me cold again’. On Undone, she ask ‘I wonder if I’ll see you again, I wonder if you’ll ever feel alright’, before declaring ‘I want to be someone you know’.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that the record is a lot fun, even as it grapples with a deeply personal journey, and even though Going to Hell finds Hekt in a much more singer/songwriter mode than her work in Muncie Girls, there are some really solid bangers. ‘Hannover’ is breezy indie pop hit with more than a small shade of Allo Darlin’ about it, ‘80 Days of Rain’ has an irresistible stomping beat certain to get crowds dancing, and ‘December’ bounces along on a great pop hook.
Title track ‘Going to Hell’ sees Hekt confronting album’s themes head on. As the title implies, the song confronts homophobic attitudes that have afflicted gay people for so long, but also of the more pervasive and damaging impact of how heteronormative culture can make you feel isolated and scared of being yourself. There’s an undeniable power when Lande sings about how ‘your friends from home start acting strange, when you try to be yourself for a change.’
Reflecting on the title track’s themes Hekt says “Homophobia and heteronormative culture can make you feel isolated and scared of being yourself – I internalised a lot of that culture for a long time and it wasn’t until I found myself surrounded by queer and trans people and friends, that I realised I could live happily in a way that felt right. I know I’m not alone in feeling like this and it was other people sharing their experiences with me that helped me out, so I named the album after this song to try and reach people who might want to be reached.”
That attitude informs this remarkably warm, incredibly honest record throughout, and even when Hekt is at her least sure, and her least happy, the overwhelming feeling is of the peace and happiness you feel in finding yourself. It’s clear that Going to Hell is a deeply personal record, and you can see why she felt it needed to stand as a solo work rather than something she would do with her band, but it’s also a wonderfully open-hearted message to people who are in a similar situation that everything’s going to be ok.