Review Summary: Ark exists in the empty spaces.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that there is little light whatsoever to be found on Ark
, and the opening track does little to dissuade as the sounds of muffled voices and distant clanging are met by a mournful organ. Yet even amidst the prevailing gloom there is a certain openness about the way Halls Simon Howard examines the darker threads of the album. There is an airy quality to the production that doesn’t muddy or weigh down proceedings, and the glitchy, downbeat electronics mix with Howard’s eerie vocals to create an affecting, sombre mood.
Most tracks operate in a simple way: atmospheric recordings lead way to gloomy synths before the electronics and vocals come in, yet Ark
avoids becoming repetitive through clever songwriting and tiered progression. Take the track "Shadow of the Colossus", which revolves around the simple refrain of “It’s like a dashboard, something to take the blow. This only happened once”. Droning synths bleed into one another underneath a jittery beat as the phrase is repeated, evolving and extending with each iteration. Vocally, this is the most effective track on the album, with Howard’s voice becoming more of a lamentation, and as the slowly building drums underneath erupt and match the gloomy tone of the lyrics, we arrive at the most visceral point Ark
The album features small interludes throughout, ranging from simple, fuzzy piano lines to deistic choir-led hymns, which are mostly effective for their part, and often quite beautiful. And whilst their integration into the album never seems forced, it never seems completely necessary either. Halls doesn’t have a problem incorporating these elements into the fully fledged tracks, such as the choir that dramatically appears on lead single "White Chalk", so it is a strange choice to pad out the album with these little forays.
It's a shame that the album limps to a close with two purely instrumental tracks, "Holy Communion" and "Winter Prayer". The former has the classic post-rock trappings of the quiet/loud dynamic as the drums gradually build to a cacophonic climax, whilst the latter is a cold, xylophone led lullaby for darker times. There is nothing essentially bad about either of these tracks, yet they seem too obvious, too simple compared to fantastic, brooding tone that the album has set up to this point.
Minor niggles aside, and they are minor, Howard imbues Ark
with themes of isolation and death, but on a more subversive level examines the people and places left behind, the empty spaces of his world. It is a dark and haunting piece of work, yet there is a strange sort of light breathed into the empty spaces that makes the bleakness beautiful.