Izzy Hagerup isn’t afraid to get uncomfortable. On Through the Window, her debut album as Prewn, upsetting realities of human grief and greed live alongside scenes of nightmarish surrealism: Houses burn, bodies wither, and children’s blood fuels the megalomaniac fantasies of a billionaire. In one song, Hagerup’s narrator describes in grotesque detail her plan to gut, fry, and eat every fish in the ocean—then wash them down with wine and smack her lips. Each track has the suspense and revelation of a slow-building horror film, the kind that stirs you awake and makes you see your surroundings in a new light.
Hagerup has been working towards this debut for years, but it wasn’t until lockdown that she gave these songs undivided attention. Finding a middle ground between perturbed garage rock and ragged freak folk, the production is equally scrappy and spooky. Guitars howl, grunt, and anxiously squiggle. But there are whimsical sparkles—eerie strings or a spunky, rudimentary Casio beat—that demonstrate Hagerup and collaborator Kevin McMahon’s taste for the unexpected. Hagerup’s voice, feisty and tremulous, steers this ship through sinister waters. It can be dangerous like barbed wire, or miraculous like a bouquet of wildflowers.
Album opener “Machine,” the most pared-down song, quickly builds the tension. At first, a steadily plucked guitar treads alongside Hagerup’s aching vocals, and all seems calm. But there’s a gathering cloud of unease, evident in the way her voice begins to crack as the narrative spirals. Within a minute, Hagerup’s story careens from an unsteady late night drive—“Drive home with my sunken eyes wide/Try so hard, I flip the car/And wake up in a gurney”—into an oscillating trip between heaven and the depths of the ocean. The experience is disorienting, like waking up and trying to remember what’s reality and what’s a dream.
Hagerup is adept at writing from alternate perspectives, and on the jaunty “Perfect World,” she takes up the point of view of a sociopathic plutocrat. “It’s a beautiful land/And I plan to expand,” she sings, stealing words from the mouths of historic conquerors and dictators. Then the quest for domination takes even more a disturbing turn: “It’s a perfect world and I’m murdering my children… My skin is glowing from this baby’s blood,” she sings. As violently frightening as this is, the most striking track on Through the Window adopts the perspective of Hagerup’s father, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. On “But I Want More,” Hagerup evokes the despair of experiencing physical decline while the soul languishes. But the song is a stubborn expression of will, and by the end, the man who Hagerup first described as vulnerable and bedridden is running “till they catch me falling,” headed for the casino to win his life back.
As in a horror film, Through the Window’s most horrific and fantastic images represent a sincere attempt to reckon with the monstrous weight of fear and grief in real life. On “Woman,” Hagerup describes a more direct revelation prompted by the imminent death of her grandmother: “Woman, I don’t know a thing about your life/I don’t know how I could ever make it right.” Her eerie coos turn sharply into aching howls, and the song morphs into sinister psych-garage as she confronts the thought that “my day will come.” It’s another striking example of Hagerup’s ability to sit with ugliness—and her refusal to let it swallow her whole.