Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chasing After Shadows... Living With the Ghosts - Hammock

Chasing After Shadows… Living With the Ghosts

Hammock Music.

SCQ Rating: 79%

Finding a promotional copy of Chasing After Shadows… Living With the Ghosts in the SCQ Inbox was the first time I’d ever heard of Hammock. Yet in the week since that discovery, I’ve happened upon a baffling amount of articles on Hammock’s oeuvre, each one drooling for a first-listen of this 2010 release. It begs the question: where have I been? How has a self-described post-rock pillager somehow closed his ears to the mention of Hammock these past many years? As a Sigur Ros completist to boot, I’m surprised Hammock’s performance at the Riceboy Sleeps exhibition last year (an invitation by Jonsi Birgisson himself) slipped me by. Regardless, to any fan of mellow post-rock, the time is ripe to dig into Hammock (the duo of Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson) with this, their fourth proper full-length album.

From the initial seconds of ‘The Backward Step’, you can hear why Jonsi would be such a fan. A patient meditation of guitar and percussion zoned out with pools of gently shifting ambience, this opener plays out one of post-rock’s classic modern templates: fleshing out a composition in full-band mode, then amping up the symphonic flourishes. It doesn’t explode, if that’s where you figured it was heading next, and avoiding that crutch is part of what makes Hammock such reliable company. Instead it crests rather elegantly on the hinges of melodies and dynamics that creep up on the listener, surrounding your sensibilities as opposed to crashing all around you. An album of varied comforters, ‘The Whole Catastrophe’ laments over a swoon of orchestration while ‘Breathturn’ evokes a refined slice of Sigur Ros balladry, their Hopelandic just a series of complimentary coos. In its most ambitious moments, Byrd and Thompson deliver prominent (if heavily treated) vocals and widescreen melodrama on ‘You Lost the Starlight In Your Eyes’; a track that bleeds like M83 but works here, in rare doses, as a change of pace.

For an album dedicated to such a monochromatic but powerful veneer, the most pressing hopes from a listener-standpoint are (1) that the band keeps it interesting, (2) that they don’t sidetrack unexpectedly into some garage-rock stomper, and (3) that they know when to quit. Hammock prove quite capable of keeping listeners spellbound to their romantic haze without falling into restless experimentation but, like its over-the-top title, Chasing After Shadows… Living With the Ghosts tries to pack too much into its single-disc format. Although every individual song is noteworthy and worth hearing, it’s equally undeniable that every song nibbles from the same glacial-paced, emotional reverie; without doubt, a few dropped tracks would've given its surviving compositions more meaning, less meandering. Still, for an album I can barely listen through, front to back, in one sitting, Hammock’s latest has been in constant-rotation this past week. A beautiful tapestry of wistful nostalgia that will surely find its niche.

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