By Brendan Wright
Charlie Hickey may not be a household name yet, but for avid followers Phoebe Bridgers, it’s more than likely you’ve at least heard of the young folk singer-songwriter in passing. Hickey and Bridgers became friends nearly a decade ago, after Hickey covered Bridgers at only age 13 in the downtown LA scene. Following a series of smaller Bandcamp releases, the now 21-year-old LA native recently crossed his biggest career threshold to date with his first major release, the Count the Stairs EP. Bridgers herself — who undoubtedly found a new level of fame following her highly anticipated 2020 release, Punisher — lends her vocals to tracks “Ten Feet Tall” and “No Good At Lying.” She has since been vocal regarding her support for the project, even having connected Hickey to longtime friend and collaborator Marshall Vore for the EP’s production, as well as sharing Hickey and his project via her powerful social media presence.
That being said, after a couple of listens through Count The Stairs, it’s immediately clear that this isn’t Hickey’s first rodeo. While not every track on the EP is apt to blow away it’s listeners, Hickey demonstrates significant promise, manifesting mood and fervor through his conversational, but often thought-provoking lyricism and soundscapes.
The EP opens in what feels like a distant, yet familiar state of imagination; a scene of mixed memories, illusions, and a struggle for sleep. Hickey's words slip from his mouth in a careful way, caressing us as they fall to the bedroom floor during what could easily be an endless night of insomnia. Describing a faded reality, he sings to us, “I don’t know who you are you must/Be some combination of people in my subconscious/It felt like it added up/Feeling safe inside a truck.” Here, it feels like Hickey introduces us to his world through an aged film whose distortions offer a soothing release of nostalgia, but not without its violent bite to jerk us awake.
Vore’s production seeps through this record, mixing Hickey’s folk passages with swells of backward synthesized sounds, banjo, and light guitar strumming to the effect of a pastoral, yet almost gothic scene, as if Hickey met up with a few demons in an open field and had a heart-to-heart with them. It’s a style we’ve heard before, but nevertheless, it pairs quite well with sentiments like, “I’m pretty sure I’m dying/Promise you won’t leave my bedside/It’s just a symptom of being alive Sometimes, I need reminding” (“Two Haunted Houses”), and “I can’t tell if you’re really here/Yesterday, I said your name three times in the mirror/But nothing happened” (“Seeing Things”).
Despite my involuntary urge to grind my post-grad teeth at the line, “No one here has to pay their rent/Well, it’s not like I do,” Hickey’s tongue and cheek “Ten Feet Tall” lyrically paints a picture of the the glamorous partying style of his peers, coated as deceitful nearly only in tone, an effect that feels oddly reminiscent of an early Third Eye Blind record. It’s an outlier on the release for sure, but just another sign that Hickey is no one trick pony.
Holistically, Charlie Hickey hits the ground running with Count The Stairs, but not without room to grow. Throughout, it’s clear that Hickey’s speaking to someone, but exactly who that is isn’t quite clear yet. At points, these tracks felt a little too humble or vague in their approach to quite grasp Hickey’s emotional and artististic sensibilities, leaving me, as a listener, feeling a little directionless at times — that is to say while undoubtedly melancholy, Count The Stairs doesn’t exactly give us a reason or intention of why it’s so sad in the first place. However, that doesn’t mean that this release isn’t enjoyable and impactful. In fact, the open endedness of tracks like “Ten Feet Tall” and the EP’s title track actively invite us to participate in it’s construction. For every moment Hickey doesn’t quite give us full insight, he gives us space to project our own moments onto the tracks. As a result, I’m coming to find that this is a release that I can live and grow with.
Hickey’s undeniably talented, and has a knack for writing some solidly heartfelt lines and melodies. After a few listens, don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along to lines you didn’t even process when you initially heard them. I know it’s prompted me to put the record on once again to uncover a little more. All-in-all, I’m excited to support Hickey as he progresses as an artist, and to grow with these songs as I’m sure they grow with him.
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