Friday, September 18, 2009

Haunt the Upper Hallways - The Declining Winter (No Ripcord Review)

Haunt the Upper Hallways

The Declining Winter
Home Assembly.

No Ripcord Rating: 4/10
SCQ Rating: 47%

Objectivity can be fleeting. Despite my attempts to ignore the band’s name, their snowy cover-art and even their blizzard-loving promotional video, I still hear Haunt the Upper Hallways as a wintry retreat from all civilization. Perhaps it’s unavoidable too… that this Leeds-based group’s clear admiration for cold weather should taint these compositions so. Yet when a band clings to a muse so stringently that it occupies their very identity, I have the habit of pulling back and reassessing. After all, I’m writing and you’re reading this for the music within these beautifully packaged sleeves… so I ask why The Declining Winter couldn’t trust their songs to capture and relate this winterized imagery on their own?

The answer to that question lies in wait throughout Haunt the Upper Hallways, the fourth release by Richard Adams (formerly of Hood) and his ensemble compiled from other bands. As a rising chord progression falls into circular pattern, the title track opens the disc in tense, full-band form with light cymbal taps, accompanying violin and distant voices. Besides its steady build, the track needlessly approaches six minutes and dwarfs most of the subsequent sketch-like tracks… in length if not in quality. The band fares better on focused arrangements like ‘My Name In Ruins’ and ‘Where the Severn Rivers Tread’, the latter succeeds best in evoking their restlessness with shackled rattling and violins crawling over each other before the band tightens into a smooth post-rock trajectory. Despite these frigid folk tunes, the most interesting material on Haunt the Upper Hallways is the segues; ‘Drenched’, all treated layers that might’ve once been vocals and ‘Red Brick Houses’, which loops violins amid growing urgency, are unformed and explorative, representing brief reprieves from this disc’s consistent ‘cabin fever’ vibe.

So why all the snow-blind overkill from The Declining Winter? Well, it’s an easy way to contextualize a lightweight album. In one respect I give props to The Declining Winter for proudly cornering their music into such a narrow and bleak framework but sadly, Haunt the Upper Hallways is as one-note musically as their imagery, no more or less creative than the wintry snapshots of roadways and branches posted on their website. Most of the guitar-based tracks are claustrophobically similar and, for a disc of thirty-one minutes, this mini-album feels gratuitously over-padded. Sure, the remix of ‘Carta’ would be an appropriate finale, what with its manipulated codas providing a warmth indicative of spring (or dare I say it… the declining winter…), but it extends an uneventful six minutes and is then followed by an instrumental mix of another Haunt the Upper Hallways track. For a release of such unique proportions – a 7” bundled with a CD – where the rules are already bent in their favour, why stretch their already thin album thinner? The answer, I’ll wager, is lost in the packaging.

(This review was originally published on No Ripcord...)

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