nedjelja, 11. studenoga 2012.

Halls - Ark

Predivan crkveno-vakuumski pop. 21-godišnji Sam Howard ministrant je u tužnoj misi koju slušaju samo zidovi. Religiozni Perfume Genius.

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Halls is the solo project of 21 year old South London musician Sam Howard.
Ark - his brooding debut album - draws from a palette of crystalline melodies, intense production and panoramic instrumentation to create a deeply personal, constructivist work of art. Evocative in sound and yet isolationist in sentiment, the album is a dramatic and emotive study of loss and modern anxiety set to a strained electronic soundtrack.
Howard's centrepiece tenor voice and his glitchy, scattered rhythms present Thom Yorke's The Eraser as an easy reference point, alongside other exponents of recent mutations in London's unique urban sound narrative such as The XX, Burial or Mount Kimbie.
Ark, however, also hints at another world beyond this. One of loop innovator Jan Jelinek's cut-and-paste percussion; the abstracted, intricate instrumentation of Efterklang; the deep choral swells of Justin Vernon's Bon Iver; haunting ambient composers Tim Hecker or Thomas Köner; and cerebral, minimal modern classicist Nils Frahm.
Openers 'I' and 'White Chalk' set the album's tone perfectly; Howard's piano chords and depth-charge kick and snare engulfed by mournful choir harmonies cloaked in cathedral-sized reverb. 'I'm Not There' and 'Roses For The Dead' pair devastating symphonic arrangements and heart-on-the-rocks strings with classic pop structure and melody, before short piano piece 'Ark' beautifully recalls 'White Chalks' spellbinding motif.
From there, 'Funeral' channels the lost airwaves of early 2000s 2-step under a silhouetted, eerie vocal; album centrepiece 'Shadow Of The Colossus' masterly juxtaposes digital and analogue drums with punctuative negative space; and 'Reverie' pierces the album's overarching impressionism with an pure, aching chorus. To close, dense instrumental 'Holy Communion' leaves an echolalia of subliminal confusion before 'Winter Prayer' ends the album on a simple, beautiful tranquility.
Ark is a stunning debut; a statuesque introspection on an unfathomable modern world. -

Another of these youngsters brandishing a form of sad, soulful confessional chamber pop for these strained times, this young south Londoner looking to dust his work with something a little bit special. It's hard in this over-peopled musical climate to make a difference but he's certainly trying to make his own distinctive voice heard beyond the rabble.
Sam Howard casts elegiacal shapes indeed, loosely confined within the walls of brittle, contemplative electronica but he brings an almost choral classical grace to his tender melancholic musings, the sad, deep swells of tear-streaked organ and stately faux-cello are incredibly affecting.
Obvious contemporary reference points would be The xx, Thom Yorke, Steve Mason, Burial and Mount Kimbie but I'm reminded in outlook of a more sombre take on lost Planet Mu lad Julian Fane and especially a beautiful song once unleashed on Static Caravan by Ampop.
So...this album is a very good record, possibly not worth quite the level of hyperbole thrown at it thus far but nevertheless Sam's world-weary voice - being the sound of an ex-choirboy who has suddenly realised all the ills of the planet earth are down to him and his fellow travellers, blended with this epic soundtrack of yearning dystopia will surely make an impression on the current "scene", or whatever this exploded bag of genre-blurring chaos you choose to name the current music climate as...

"I hope you find a source of positivity from within the themes of isolation and death found on the album," Sam Howard writes in the liner notes to Ark, the 21-year-old's full-length debut as Halls. I picked up the record when Hurricane Sandy was just a huge blip on the radar, but I listened more intently when I started scrolling through footage of the aftermath, unable to leave my apartment even after the government-mandated house arrest had elapsed. Howard has said in interviews that recording these songs gave him solace during a period in which he couldn't leave his home. "Halls was a way of calming me down," he said. And here I was, kind of doing the same thing, except with a giant crane hanging like the Sword of Damocles just a few blocks away. Ark isn't a comforting album but it went with what I was seeing. "It all feels as though it was written in the aftermath of some terrible upset or shock," The Guardian's Paul Lester wrote.
It wasn't always this way. Halls, who left previous bands because he doesn't "work well with other people," has been steadily honing his approach to making music with keyboards and a laptop. Last year's self-titled debut EP found him painting instrumental ambience with a broad, pretty, boring brush. On January's Fragile EP, he livened up his cinematic soundscape with a Sigur Rós sample, a live piano, and his own deeper, louder voice. Ark, Halls' debut full-length of just 10 months later, sounds like a different person wrote it. You can hear what he's saying most of the time. He lets the music fall out sometimes. The most telling difference, however, is the samples, which were recorded at churches and conservatories in the London area.
The minute-long "Arc" raises hairs with an original choral composition by Howard, which originally appeared in "White Chalk" alongside a choir singing Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus" at Blackheath's Conservatoire (for all his specificity in the liner notes, Halls doesn't clarify if the two pieces are sung by the same singers). And the title track fills a creaky ambient background with a sparse piano line recorded in the same venue. With a crow cawing in the background and steps receding in the background, it could be the last piano on earth. This all means that Howard's creation myths don't quite line up (if he couldn't leave his house, how did he go to church?) but the ends justify the means here. "I", for example, opens Ark with a field recording in St. Martin in the Fields in London, which supposedly sets the tone for the record. It's not much-- worshipers file in and out of church-- but it accomplishes a lot. Imagining Howard making the album alone in his room, replaying the conversations of he recorded of people around him, feels indescribably lonely.
As with a lot of depressive downbeat electronic music with vocals, Radiohead is the most obvious influence. Howard's rich yet hollow timbre, like a choirboy singing about emotions he's too young to understand, strikes a chord with Thom Yorke's, especially on "Roses for the Dead" and "Shadow of the Colossus", both driven relentlessly to their emotional climaxes ("It's like a dashboard/ Something to take the blow") with clicks and whispers. In Howard's description of "I'm Not There" he says he wrote the song for "the voice of the dead." He seems to takes it upon himself to convey them: "In darkness, it is my voice, the only one/ The only one that knows the work that bends before the light," he cryptically sings on "Reverie", Ark's most instrumentally barren song "sung from the perspective of a person who has lost their life partner, and is left to contemplate their loss every night." It's like the post-post-dubstep version of "I'm Not There", eschewing the percussion of James Blake's signature synth-led space for a guitars, live drums, and violins. Both find their inverse in the penultimate track "Holy Communium", which builds chiming and skittering to a drum crescendo worthy of Philip Selway.
It's unfortunate that by the end of the album, these less-than-subtle paeans overshadow the intakes of breath from the choir on "White Chalk" or the wooden creaks of the pew in "Winter Prayer". Specific to Halls, those quieter moments are Ark's most affecting and how it should be remembered. Howard has come a long, emotionally taxing way from the aptly named Sounds of Sweet Nothing, the label that released Fragile. Even though much of Ark was written and recorded then, Halls' sounds of nothing are no longer sweet. It's the attempt to fill what's left behind after something, be it a life partner or an entire seaside community, has been taken away. - Harley Brown

Churches are fascinating places. Their atmosphere and presence of these buildings have a magnificent effects on people. It is no wonder some musicians are attracted to them, recording albums and performing gigs in them. Halls is clearly enticed by churches, and indeed religion; many of the song titles and structures on his debut full length, Ark, have religious connotations. In every church there is a towering instrument that is almost as evocative as the building itself, and which has been historically used when the bride is walking down the aisle, or at a funeral dirge. But Halls bring the organ out of the church and into contemporary music; and the album opens with gloomy drones.
Halls is the solo project of 21-year-old south Londoner Sam Howard. Earlier this year he released the Fragile EP, which demonstrated Howard’s mastery at creating a grey soundscapes. Ark continues where his EP left off with downtempo, jittery electronic tracks, enhanced with powerful organ chords. Stillness and space here are as effective as any instrument, with moments of quiet exaggerating simple instances of sound to great effect. It is quite a skill to be able to use silence to elevate a recording. Just like a scientist experimenting in a laboratory, trying to find the right mix of one chemical in relation to another, musicians tinker away in studios, working out when the stillness is best supplemented with beats. Halls has managed to find just the right formula.
The opening of I is reminiscent of a funeral dirge and leads into White Chalk, which is just as spine chilling. Its organ-led intro reaches a sudden halt followed by silence, reawakened as a beat thuds abruptly into life with the track blossoming around this beat as a centrepiece. Alongside these beats an enchanting choir produce an angelic sound as this striking song reaches its incredible climax. Throughout the record Howard’s voice is comparable to that of Thom Yorke; likewise the sound of the album is similar to the atmospheric electronic noise of Yorke’s solo work. Yet on I’m Not There Sam Howard’s vocals recall Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, with melodies swelling over haunting ambience. Funeral could easily be mistaken for a track on Radiohead's Kid A, with its eerie vocals and electronics adding up to a mesmerising listen. Holy Communion sounds as religious as the title of the track suggests as it ebbs away with a spacious feel, before an explosion of noise cuts away with beats colliding in front of a swirling mix of tingling atmospherics.
For all the craft that Sam Howard shows on Ark there are moments when you become lost and entangled in the isolation. The nature of the tracks at times overshadows the beauty that Howard is trying to architect on each song. Beside the standout moment on White Chalk, the remaining tracks blend into a long soundtrack of remoteness and loneliness. Sam Howard may deserve credit for being able to claim he has created a complex and flowing piece of music., but some more wow moments over the course of Ark wouldn’t go a miss. Howard himself is not religious, even if the many references suggest its influence on his work. It all adds up to an album you want to believe in. - Samuel Cornforth

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