Carlie Hanson – ‘Wisconsin’ Album Review

Photo Credit: Samantha Harter

Ever since 2018’s “Only One,” Wisconsin’s Carlie Hanson has felt like an indie cult star perpetually on the brink of a major breakout – the charms of her evocative, homespun indie-pop and pop-punk immediately obvious. Her sophomore album, which shares a name with her home state, might be too quiet and too inward-looking to bring her stardom, but it’s also her most rewarding work so far by some margin. 

The opener “Hopelessness” establishes a newer, more experimental, more assured direction for the Tough Boy singer. It begins with hyper-auto-tuned vocals that recall the music of Indigo De Souza, and lyrics that speak plainly to the 21st-century malaise. “It’s like every other week, what a long year,” Hanson sighs, an instantly relatable sentiment that speaks to why the 22-year-old has cultivated a small but loyal fanbase. The following “608” is another delightful little pop song – an unassuming but catchy ode to a youth filled with evocative lyrical intimacies (a cracked windscreen, conversations with her mother, a partner’s green eyes).  

Though Wisconsin is clearly the best project out of Hanson’s 2 albums and 2 EPs released thus far, it still displays the teething pains of a relatively-new artist still searching for a distinctive musical identity. Hanson is a compelling lyricist and multi-dimensional vocalist, but outside of the album opener, she struggles to find a singular musical identity – and as a result, a few too many of her songs sound destined to get lost in a Spotify chill-indie-vibes playlist. “LSE to LAX” begins as a perfectly nice, plain-spoken, acoustic pop number, but by the midsection, Hanson’s voice gets subsumed by an overbearing and anonymizing trap beat. “College Boy” meanwhile, marks one-too-many understated pop songs in a row and instantly fades into the background.

Still, there are more hits than misses on Wisconsin – and Hanson proves a largely compelling, if not singular, artist. “Torn” captures Gen-Z overthinking and anxiety with acute precision (“Saw I’m not in any photographs // Took that like a punch”), while “Pretender” benefits from newfound duality – as Hanson evocatively contrasts minimalist acoustics with snarling pop-punk vocal delivery. 

“Illusion” proves to be a late album highlight, and if any song on this album were to provide Hanson with her viral breakthrough moment, it would be this. A peppy song about feeling disaffected with life, it’s filled with crushing confessionals (“Perfect moments seem to slip by”) that are spoken of as matter-of-factly as items off a grocery list. The song proves that, with time, Hanson could evolve into an all-time great indie star like Liz Phair or Phoebe Bridgers, who find staggering depths of meaning in all of life’s many mundanities. That alone makes Hanson more than worthy of the ‘promising’ designation. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Written by: Tom Williams

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