Review Summary: For when you feel most alone
Everyone possesses an innate method for handling depression – something deep inside that enables the mind to defy desolation and conquer feelings of hopelessness. For many people, that outlet is music. Just look at Justin Vernon, for whom we would be without Bon Iver had he not concealed himself in a remote Wisconsin cabin for three months to brood over the loss of his band and girlfriend. It’s cathartic, and it’s safe to say that some of the most poignant music ever created has emanated from the personal and emotional wreckage of its writers. Enter Astronauts, the moniker for Dan Carney (previously of Dark Captain). As Carney lied in a hospital, bed-ridden due to a severely fractured leg and in a nearly delirious morphine-enhanced state of mind– he began to fantasize about Epping Forest, a section in northeast London not far from where he was hospitalized. His condition caused this place to take on a mystical quality, and he fantasized about walking freely there – limbs intact. As these ideas gathered steam, they became Hollow Ponds
as we now know it: the setting for Carney’s often bleak and highly contemplative indie-folk debut.
is an album that closely identifies with its cover art. Intensely atmospheric, it broods over an acoustically minimal soundscape while echoing creator Dan Carney’s forsaken demeanor. It rarely conveys anything approaching enthusiasm, dwelling in the dark and dampened corners of a mind trapped inside a hospitalized body. The bleakly repetitive ‘Everything’s a System, Everything’s a Sign’ is a direct product of Carney’s sullen tone. Even if it isn’t a shining instance of his diversity and brilliance, the way it cycles through the chorus of “you can’t just do what you want” bears down on the listener, drawing him or her into an eerie atmosphere that is conducive to Hollow Ponds
. Tracks such as this set up the record’s marquee moments, and in this case ‘Flame Exchange’ embodies everything Astronauts hopes to be; dourly plodding forth atop pristine acoustic plucking before swelling strings and woodwinds cause all emotions to run high – “feels like I’m about to capsize…need some solid ground under my feet.” The lyrics serve as a microcosm of Hollow Ponds
, an album that is emotionally unhinged and hanging in the balance.
All one needs to confirm this is the icy, abandoned aura of the title track. Introduced by way of high-key classical piano notes, electronic ambiance slowly washes over the track and serves as an entropic force that launches the experience into a relative state of disarray. As the ambiance subsides midway through ‘Hollow Ponds’ and gradually gives way to earthy substance again, the track returns to normalcy. The song reaches its peak when Carney proclaims “I’ve been too long caring, been too long confused…too long standing like a statue, too scared to move.” It’s the epitome of discontent, summarizing the bustling negative energy residing within the murky depths of Hollow Ponds
, which surfaces like a mythological beast – sparsely asserting its presence in between moments of calm. It’s also a metaphor for Carney’s immobility, comparing his bed-ridden state to his fear of moving on in life. If Astronauts’ debut dug into Carney’s emotional depths with even more frequency, then it could have easily been standing on the doorsteps of perfection.
There’s a lot more to Hollow Ponds
than densely emotive atmospheres, though, which is a double edged sword. While on one side it wields Astronauts’ proud highlights, on the side it shows an artist whose ambition is divided between music of a dark and brooding alt-rock nature, and that of a more traditional acoustic singer-songwriter approach. While ‘Flame Exchange’ and ‘Hollow Ponds’ indisputably deliver the album’s most instrumentally heartfelt and lyrically candid moments, there’s still plenty to be gained from the so-called “light side” of Carney’s composition. Opener ‘Skydive’ succeeds in a more delicate, uplifting vein; thriving on buoyant acoustic guitar strums and Carney’s entrancing vocal performance. Then there’s the way that ‘In My Direction’ conjures images of a hike through thick woodlands, following the skipping rhythm like stones hopping across a flowing brook. There are most certainly missteps and falters along the way, such as the generally indistinguishable ‘Try to Put It Out of Your Mind’, but most often Carney proves capable of delivering upbeat song structures alongside dejected tones whilst making it all sound harmonious. It’s not a compliment that can be paid to very many debut-crafting artists, and it’s something that Astronauts can hang its hat on for future albums to come.
When all is said and done, Hollow Ponds
is a definitive cut above your run-of-the-mill acoustic folk debuts. Although it can at times blend together, there are intangible factors to be considered here – most notably the emotional weight and prominent atmosphere. Through Astronauts, Dan Carney has set in motion a project that possesses an incredible personality of its own. If he continues to channel his emotions into Astronauts, then it will become a cathartic vessel that we’ll all want to return to in the future.