I often wonder what the end of the world will be like. Will it be brought upon us as a result of our own destructive, myopic ways? I think it says a lot about humanity’s short-sightedness that ostensibly we are more concerned about a zombie invasion than a nuclear holocaust, for example. Will it be wrought by nature, or a combination of man and nature – global warming, say? Could it be the actions of some unseen supreme being? Will it happen in the next million years? In the next millennium? The next century? Might I even be around to see it? It could come in the form of a terrifying, fiery maelstrom that scorches us from this planet, or some tremendous, fearsome aquatic surge that simply washes us away. Or, it could be like the softly-worded climax to Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Nine Billion Names of God’, an understated, peaceful, unfathomably beautiful ending: “overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out”.
I hear Hammock’s exquisite ‘Oblivion Hymns’ as the soundtrack to this blissful vision of the end of all. ‘Oblivion Hymns’ sees subtly sweeping string arrangements come to the fore, pushing wistful guitar drones to a background role along with aching, yearning horns and the occasional choral arrangement. Accordingly, the tone and timbre makes it difficult to avoid awestruck reverence of the majestic beauty on display here.
In the past few years the two members of Hammock have endured friends’ suicides and sudden deaths, chronic sickness and cataclysmic flood damage. It is perhaps unsurprising then that a sense of mortality pervades ‘Oblivion Hymns’. The children’s choir that emerges out of the ether of strings and pianos on ‘Then the Quiet Explosion’ evokes images of some cosmic funeral. The intermittent broken-glass guitar refrains on top of a burgeoning string section during ‘Holding Your Absence’ sound like the renderings of dying stars on a silver screen. At the album’s conclusion, dark, a dark, swelling drone unfurls like a slow-motion rush of DMT in ‘Hope Becomes a Loss’, before the most overt “hymn” here, ‘Tres Dominé’ – a euphoric, final comfort.
The tracks that constitute ‘Oblivion Hymns’ are just that – spiritual pleas, meditations from the brink of utter destruction. Amidst all this death, darkness and finality, there is a calm stoicism and, more importantly, an awestruck sense of beauty. The vast scope of what Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson accomplish here serves to soothe the listener, but also to humble them: you are an infinitesimal, yet integral part of something much larger than you and beyond comprehension. Their slow-motion strings and guitar drones paint a night-sky canvas; flourishes from other strings and guitars, or else horns or choirs shine through the darkness. Listen closely and you may just hear the stars going out.