Carlie Hanson’s New Album, “Tough Boy,” Contends With Loss In Incredible Fashion

Today, February 18th, marks the release date for Wisconsin singer-songwriter Carlie Hanson’s debut full length album, Tough Boy! Equal parts pop and alt-rock with a touch of pop-punk, Tough Boy showcases Hanson’s lyrical ability in a way that truly makes her one to watch. In someone else’s words, “She has melded her love for Justin B. and Nirvana … in the most delicious way.” There is an argument to be made that the Paramore influence is even stronger than J.B., but that would be doing the pop side of this album a disservice.

Carlie Hanson

Right from the beginning, “Off My Neck (Friends)” establishes the thesis of the album: “They say the truth hurts, but what about lies?” This doesn’t mean Hanson is lying in her lyrics. In fact, she is sometimes a bit too truthful. However, it gives the energy of the album some context. Hanson has that pop-punk edge to her style, constantly questioning adages and developed statements most consider to be the complete truth.

In addition to that lyric from the chorus, the opening line of the album is “I’m living with your ghost now.” This is essentially a dedication of the album to the lost friend or lover that “Off My Neck” is about. This sense of living with a ghost is pervasive throughout the entire album. On tracks like the titular “Tough Boy,” Hanson sings about the sleep she’s lost over this person (“Bags under both of my eyes”) and the anger she feels over the end of this relationship (“I could f*** you up if I wanted to”). On “Your Mom,” she sings about a conversation with the ghost’s mother. The hook of “Gucci Knife” is “She took my heart out with a Gucci knife.” This established loss winds its way through every track on this album, and the sounds amplify this sense of loss and dread.

Filled with trap hi-hats and 808s, the hip-hop-esque grooves on this album give the feeling of displacement. Mixing that displacement with the pop-punk melodies and guitar lines gives the whole album a unique feeling. There are moments that feel like they were meant to sound like other songs in one of the genres Hanson is mixing, but they never quite make it there. They often toe the line between genres, and this gives the album that aforementioned feeling of dread. It feels like Hanson is comfortable toeing the line but is afraid of losing depth by doing so.

Let me be very clear: there is no depth lost in this album. The nature of the lyrics allows the music to be somewhat similar to other songs in the world right now. The weight they carry allows Hanson to pull from a myriad of sonic influences, creating an album that is wholly unique in its execution. Sometimes influences are obvious – “Snot” sounds like a Paramore song, and “Fuck Your Labels” (which you can read our review of here) sounds like Olivia Rodrigo with trap beats – but other influences are so subtle that it feels like something completely different in its similarities.

I have to take this opportunity to talk about “Girls In Line For The Bathroom.” While the title is reminiscent of a completely unrelated N.E.R.D song, the sentiment of the song is something that is so universal yet so specific. Why can’t everyone be as nice as girls in line for the bathroom? This track feels like the highlight of the album purely for the sentiment of the lyrics, but this album has so many great hooks and lyrical moments that it’s almost unfair to single out one. Even still, “Girls In Line For The Bathroom” has some of Hanson’s most potent and distilled lyrics on this project, and I would argue it’s the best song here.

The only real qualm I have with this album is the same qualm I have with most albums being released these days. The penultimate track feels like the perfect ending point, and the final track feels like it was tacked on towards the end of the process. On Tough Boy, the track “Love You Anyway” is that perfect, bittersweet moment for an album that is so focused on the pain of loss and the dread of modern society, and “Come Back Around” just feels like a bonus track. This is just a personal feeling, and I could be very wrong, but the art of track sequencing seems to be making a comeback while simultaneously being forgotten. Carlie Hanson got it so close to a perfect sequence on Tough Boy, so this is just nitpicky. It’s not that “Come Back Around” is a bad song. It’s good. It’s just that “Love You Anyway” is the perfect encapsulation of the album’s journey, and having something else at the end of it just seems excessive.

On the whole, though, Carlie Hanson has absolutely knocked it out of the park on this debut album. I’m curious to see where she goes from here, but for now, I’ll just take Tough Boy and dance around thinking about all the relationships I’ve had fail or never manifest. It’s cathartic. Join me.

Check out Tough Boy below, and let us know what you think in the comments!

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