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No Hat No Play (Dot Dash)

As any parent, or not-that-long-out-of-primary-school person, would know, the no hat, no play rule is both sensible, safe, and bloody annoying if you’ve forgotten said hat. Who wants to sit in the shade twiddling thumbs while everyone else is running around like mad larks?

But if you’ve got your head covered, then pleasure is all yours and fun can be had. Let’s get physical!

Handsome – not just an apt description of the standard of pop songwriting here but also the name preferred now by the artist formerly known as Caitlin Park – has brought her hat. Fun has been had (by her) and fun can be had (by us) across a batch of song happily getting physical.

This EP - at five tracks and under 20 minutes, it’s more a recess than lunch hour entertainment – has at its core the simplicity of joy. Joy in being attracted and joy in being attractive, joy in letting go with friends and joy in reclining in the warmth of friendships.

Even in its song of letting go, the slow soul ballad TV Set (“I don’t want to know you anymore/You have changed”) is done with regret wrapped in the remnants of the love that had come before. And incidentally in a voice let free to soar.

Handsome has manifested this ode to friendship, freedom and closeness in a strong roster of contributors, vocal and otherwise, who give colourings and shadings to her low-key electro pop. Nothing is done alone here, in life or in the studio.

But the central thesis is still opening up to the world, and she remains the driving force. She’s there in the rising thrill of desire and discovering a “beautiful life” of Save Some Love, which mixes House groove and vocals with bubbling synths and blurred backing voices, all while recognising the pleasure in being able to say “all night through, I’ll save some live for you/All day through, oh how I fell for you”

No Cowards, easy-on-the-hips R&B in the mould of one or two ‘90s trios, is an encouragement to “eliminate your fears” in a package that suggests Handsome has sun above her and an open door before her. Late Night Ball Game, with more gospel in the R&B mix alongside some tinky-tonk percussion, may be about “holding my breath for what you might say”, but it has a kind of optimistic momentum that makes the other woman’s answer seemingly inevitable.

In closing the EP with WILDS – whose all-caps title provides a textual counter to the song’s James Blake-like opening sombreness – Handsome makes a tactical decision to leave open the idea that depth of feeling doesn’t have to be at either extremity. From echoing sounds and manipulated voices, through the solidity of the subtones, and in the swell of the keys, there’s a blend of hope and uncertainty, intimacy and observation that feels very real. And intriguing.

Yes, Handsome has come to play, but the games aren’t necessarily simple.

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