Review Summary: This lesser known duo creates a beautifully produced, intimate experience that not only rivals most other post rock bands but exceeds a few as well.
Anyone who has ventured into or familiarized themselves with the term "Post Rock" should promptly be able to provide a somewhat accurate description of its sound or at least some of the more influential bands that make up the genre. Many will identify the signature as being a slow-building expanse of spacey guitars and drawn out fields of sound, most notably from the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor
, Explosions in the Sky
, or Sigur Ros
. More often than not, these bands offer a full, rich sound that explores a wide range of dynamics which help to create very expressive and conceptual albums. Above all the most agreeable commonality between them all is the promise that a post rock record is more than likely going to offer an intimate and rewarding listen to those who fully engross themselves into it. That being said, I would like to address a greatly overlooked example of sheer brilliance and beauty that draws parallels to its peers in some of these ways.
Raising Your Voice... Trying to Stop an Echo
is the second full length release from Hammock, which consists only of guitarists Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson. At first glance, especially when likened to bands that can boast twenty to thirty minute single songs, the eighteen track listing may raise eyebrows with concern as to exactly how long this may be. However, rather than creating long winded tracks that contain all components of the build, the climax and the retreat, Byrd and Thompson seem to opt in separating each individual passage by its place in progression. Though the album itself runs to nearly seventy-six minutes, most of the tracks will last anywhere from four to six while exploring a musical idea to their full potential, and some only last a little longer than one minute, seemingly serving as a brief pause or a moment of reflection. Others coincide, as predicted by the track names alone in Disappear Like the Morning...
and ...Like Starlight Into Day
, and bleed into each other to achieve a sense of completion.
Not only do Hammock avoid the predictability of the standard post rock song structure but, being guitarists, Byrd and Thompson also naturually use very little percussion. When it is present, however, it takes the shape of both live and electronic drumming but never to an extent that distracts from the other elements. Even when percussion is absent, the guitar work oftentimes has an underlying pulse that maintains the rhythm intended. Though the incorporation of droning guitars, ethereal soundscapes, and emotive swells is certainly nothing new in the genre, they seem to serve on this record as but a foundation for the further experimentation, strengthening tonal centers and allowing the sound to expand into the depths of space, be it through guitar effects or timid piano accompaniment. In fact, through the euphoric peaks and even the subdued lows there is a feeling of constant ascension as though rising further and further above the world itself with each track offering a much greater perspective on everything below than you had been able to see before. Be it through sparse, single notes echoing amidst a sea of sound or the simple, calming strum of an acoustic guitar, the lasting impression is one with gorgeous, shimmering walls of sonic consonance that resonate throughout the listen and grip right at the heart.
Even within all of the instrumental, otherworldly beauty there is hint of something more that opens up another dimension of the sound, something a little darker. What could be considered another aspect that separates Hammock from some of the post rock out there is the implementation of the occasional sung lyrics. The opening I Can Almost See You
, for example, is highlighted throughout by a breathy chant of "See
" that could prove as a chilling likeness to Sigur Ros
. The lyrical content itself also sheds some light upon the lingering sensation that hides beneath the sighing, serene surface. As in text taken from the title track where Byrd sings:
"you swore you'd never be them, you're just like them now. all those times you said you hate them just to hurt them, you're just like them now. such a cold place that you've been in, will you blame them" you're just like them. still the stars shine down on your skin, can you see them" you're just like them now."
Juxtaposed against the piercingly beautiful layers of guitar it is suddenly very clear what dark lining has been hinted at throughout this journey. The subtly solemn, bittersweet beauty of the following tracks seem to travel from one life to another, shrouding a metaphorical overcast of life and death. As bleak as this may appear, it really is hard to resist a smile and a rise in the chest when Byrd's sighing, soothing vocals return eleven tracks further into the stratosphere during ...Like Starlight Into Day
Even further are my eyes opened upon reading a quote from Byrd himself in regards to the record, in which he says, "...lyrically, it's very much a sense of loss and permanence of death that I was trying to capture, based upon the view of life I have in general. I had a close friend who was a few years older than me; he was an assistant teacher at a college, and he was someone I liked, but one day he went to Wal-Mart, bought a gun, and went and killed himself
". With this knowledge, my entire interpretation of the album is jumbled and my appreciation for it magnified. Within the ever-ascending, uplifting nature of the record, that particular something is now unveiled to its full extent. The pensive, despairing undertones of death and the uncertainty of one's own existence exude clearly from atop the blissful cloudlike soundscapes. What is strangely comforting is that the two coincide beautifully, neither diminishing the other but instead intensifying the effect it plays on the emotions.
Most disarming is the positive, peaceful effect it leaves once the record, and perhaps the life it is meant to symbolize, has actually expired. Even the somber insinuations of death bring to mind notions of acceptance or consolation, rather than coming off as depressing. Though mostly instrumental, the track titles and the lyrics presented tend to suggest that the journey could be the time immediately before one's last moments. Perhaps it is only meant to aid in the discovery or represent an existential realization of one's own life, or maybe this is only what Byrd and Thompson think it would feel like when we finally go. Whatever it is, it's certainly meant to be played in isolation, preferably somewhere dark and quiet, in order to obtain the complete experience and decide for yourself. Either way, when all of the layers have been peeled back and examined thoroughly, Raising Your Voice... Trying to Stop an Echo
is much like a wrenching, almost disturbingly honest musical representation for the frailty of mortality.
(The album as a whole, but if you must...)
Raising Your Voice... Trying to Stop an Echo
God Send Us a Signal
Take a Drink from My Hands
Shipwrecked (Flat On Your Back)
Will You Ever Love Yourself"