One of the all time favorites out here in East Los Angeles. Love listening to this song in the office and thought it would be an ideal song to share for all you alt chicanas/ latinas. The alt electronic and shoegaze scene is real big out here in Los Angeles and I’m loving every minute of it.
Peter Michel recorded Hibou’s 2015 self-titled debut in a walk-in closet. These humble beginnings led to great things: His shoegaze-frosted dream-pop drew raves reviews and led to opening slots for Metric, Phantogram, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
The Seattle-based musician has come a long way since that time—in fact, his second album as Hibou, Something Familiar, reflects several years marked by profound change. “I was still a teenager when I was writing the first album,” he explains. “All of the songs feel a little one-faced. They’re about relationships and love and summertime and things like that. On this upcoming album, I really challenged myself lyrically to get a little more personal, and talk about some of the darker parts of myself.”
More specifically, Something Familiar addresses Michel’s ongoing battle with anxiety and depersonalization — the latter a disorder distinguished by feeling disengaged from the mind and body, as if someone is an outsider looking in at their own self. As a result, Something Familiar has a decidedly darker tone. Although the core elements of Hibou remain intact—reverb-soaked guitars, plush keyboards, and Michel’s dreamy croon—the record exudes melancholy. The churning “Malison” boasts a tougher, space rock-influenced underbelly, while the shimmering, synth-driven gems “Amethyst” and “The Way You’re Breathing” sigh with resignation. Something Familiar’s intricate arrangements also speak volumes: “Junipero Love” ends with an extended, chiming guitar solo that conveys deep longing—and the molasses-tempo title track utilizes sparse keyboards to illuminate anguish.
The lyrics are more personal and direct, and focus on finding emotional equilibrium despite long odds. Something Familiar’s lack of sugarcoating is evident from the first song, “Malison”—in which Michel sings candidly, “If I could think steadily, then I could tell myself, ‘At least look happier'”—and on the hushed “Fall Into,” which is about longing to overcome personal roadblocks: “Am I keeping calm, or can you tell?”
“Anxiety is an incredibly strange thing, and everyone has different forms of it,” Michel says. “I think that songwriting was a really necessary way for me to try to express that, because people would always ask about it: ‘What does it feel like? Describe it.’ I’d never be able to put it into words. It was such a relief when I began to experiment and communicate the effects of my anxiety with textures and poetry, rather than conversations.”
Being so open about anxiety in his songwriting is new for Michel. “I think I always tried to put my anxiety on the backburner,” he says. “It’s a hard thing to confront. At least with me, whenever I start thinking about it, it tends to get worse, because I’ll get so in my head about it. Mental things actually start becoming physical very quickly. And so it was scary to sit down and say, ‘I’m going to confront this right now.'”
In parallel with this emotional self-discovery, Michel explored another occupational pursuit. After owning a tour van that was always suffering mechanical failures, the musician discovered that he enjoyed working on and fixing cars. During the time between albums, Michel attended automotive technician school and has been employed full-time at a garage ever since—a job he finds extremely rewarding.
“I’ve figured out select parts of my anxieties, but I’ve never been able to see the whole picture,” he says. “With diagnostics of cars, the problem is there, and it’s tangible. I’m going to be able to see direct results from my work—which is something I couldn’t find in myself, so I latched onto something else.”
In a nod to embracing change, Michel made a conscious choice to track Something Familiar in a real studio, the Chris Walla-owned Hall of Justice, with an outside producer, Dylan Wall (who has worked with Craft Spells, for whom Michel once drummed). He also recorded with a full band—guitarist, bassist and drummer—rather than by himself. “I toured for a long time with the band, and it was really interesting to see how the songs changed when there were four people playing them, as opposed to just me in my bedroom,” he says.
But for all of the changes and progress evident on Something Familiar, Michel is careful to note that the core essence of what makes Hibou special hasn’t changed. “It was strange to start consciously writing from a different stylistic standpoint, but I didn’t want to totally turn the page,” Michel says. “There is still a fundamental Hibou sound in there. It just is drenched in a little more honesty.”
More than ever before, Michel knows that maintaining mental equilibrium is an ongoing process that will need adjustment in the future. Thankfully, the last few years have helped him develop the kind of self-awareness and emotional fortitude he needs to navigate his anxiety going forward. “At this point,” Michel says, “I know the best thing for me is to find ways to harbor these feelings—until I can dissolve them.”