A couple of years ago the San Francisco and Oakland indie scenes opened up like two blooming flowers in the sunshine when we fell for a group called Cindy. The band curated a bonus disc for us that featured a whole host of groups and artists from that area of the world that were their peers and Hectorine’s Motel Song hit us immediately. So it just feels right that Hectorine’s debut album, originally from 2019 but now released on vinyl for the first time follows Cindy’s Free Advice as a Monorail Album Of The Month.
Hectorine is the nom de plume of Oakland resident Sarah Gagnon and with her group she writes swirling, gently psychedelic and beguiling songs that pulse with an innate sensitivity and warmth. The perfectly balanced playing on the record lifts the songs to a gentle peak with everything supporting Gagnon’s striking voice, a deeply resonant and restrained instrument that pulls off this trick of being simultaneously understated and demanding of attention.
Hectorine’s music seems to have emerged from an imaginary mid-Atlantic Atlantis, part West Coast USA psychedelia and late 60s southern English balladry, between Caravan and Trees, Jefferson Airplane, United States Of America, Velvet Underground and, a little more up to date, Galaxie 500 or Luna. A music of a time out of place, her debut seems to have been born fully formed and quietly confident. A hazily, lightly lysergic bucolia that might reference the past in its palette, these songs are universal tales of the heart.
Motel Song opens the album, with gentle waves of shimmering guitar and a swaying vocal performance from Gagnon detailing a stolen night at a motel. The slow burn of the song is quietly affecting, with Gagnon’s nocturnal reminiscing playing out over organ and understated guitar embellishments. Hectorine’s music feels like night time music brought into the blazing sun, the bleached out colours bleeding out from each chord, honey-dewed harmonies twisting out tales touched with skewed emotions and turmoil, yet played with control and panache. The way The Raven’s flute accompaniment and arpeggio guitars frame Gagnon’s vocal brings to mind Bridget St. John more than Nico, an artist to whom she’s been compared more frequently. The wistfulness in Hectorine’s delivery is far warmer than the cold, glacial productions associated with Cale-era Nico; the weird, Alice In Wonderland eternal-summer promised by Hectorine is a warmer place.
On the fuller band productions, like Another Life, Gagnon’s interaction with her band recalls the classic heartbreaking indie pop canon like Belle & Sebastian or Camera Obscura, with immaculately curated instrumentation highlighting each twist. Over the 9 songs’ procession Hectorine flickers with both darkness and light, sun-kissed imagery darkened by universal human problems or nocturnes fizzing with reckless adventures. It’s a dreamworld, a reality filtered through Gagnon’s fervent imagination that you never want to full awake from.