Hello Satellites is the moniker of Melbourne artist Eva Popov. It’s both ironic and fitting that her fourth studio album is called There’s a Field: ironic, for these songs were recorded primarily in her home during Melbourne’s long COVID-19 lockdown, and fitting, for the airiness and spaciousness of these songs feel like they belong in the wide, open expanse of the field; her graceful pop constantly arrives like a whispered wind travelling slowly over the tall grass.
Popov has been making music as Hello Satellites for over a decade now and the songs that make up There’s a Field were written between 2015 and 2020. Facing up to having to record the album under isolated restrictions, she displays a playfulness and innovation that recalls Fiona Apple’s masterful control on Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020), where her house and surroundings were as much a part of the album as any instrument. So Popov recorded her vocals in the quiet of night in the echo chamber of a walk-in wardrobe; she built a virtual choir of friends across the internet to embellish the heft of tracks such as “Friend”.
While a collection of backing musicians play everything from the clarinet (“Missing Piece”) to the accordion (“Silent Lake”) to a twinkling ukulele (“Thief”), it’s Popov’s piano that dominates the album. It starts subtly on the haunting lullaby that opens proceedings, “Something Dies, Something Heals”, before powerfully overtaking the song, rising to match her dramatic singing; on “All Water Returns”, it’s played carefully and contemplatively.
Oftentimes, Popov doesn’t commit enough. Songs like the title track, the mournful “Missing Piece” and the tender but timid “Silent Lake” feel in need of more complexity. The upside of the sparseness is it allows for Popov’s tremulous vocals to have greater impact. Her ghostly and light delivery imbues the entire album with a profound grandeur and gracefulness. It’s dramatic when it needs to be, solemn at other moments.
Although Popov herself considers it to be a folk album at heart, some of its highlights are in supreme contrast to this genre. “No Delivery” releases the shackles, a slice of art-pop that recalls St. Vincent. About the addictive nature of technology, the snappy and catchy rhythm encapsulates the seduction of excessive screen time. “Water Salt Light Grace” is the other prime example of exiting her comfort zone, an upbeat and immensely fun piece filled with wonky instrumentation and layered vocals.
Released independently and recorded in the stolen moments of working motherhood, There’s a Field is compelling in its commitment to finding joy and lightness in the smallest of moments. Popov’s splendid vocals will always be capable of capturing that.