Hammock
Mysterium


4.5
superb

Review

by hesperus CONTRIBUTOR (19 Reviews)
August 20th, 2017 | 102 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A bold, breathtaking statement about the frustration of not being able to say anything at all.

I’ve known for a while that Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson were religious (the two were members of a Christian alt rock group before starting Hammock), but I never thought much about their religious background when listening to Hammock, which has always been heavy on instrumental arrangements, light on lyricism, and more focused on feeling than meaning. That’s all true of Hammock’s latest album, Mysterium, but upon listening to the opening track, “Now and Not Yet,” for the first time, I felt Byrd and Thompson’s faith immediately. The choral arrangement that opens the track certainly has a hymnal quality on the surface, but on a deeper level, it feels aethereal--and not in the sense in which light and airy music is often described as aethereal. It feels like Hammock has tapped into heaven and woven a small piece of it into the track.

I understand how lofty that statement sounds, but I stand by it, because it’s a testament to how flawlessly Mysterium uses Hammock’s strengths to convey its thematic core. Mysterium was written and recorded during and after the death of Byrd’s nephew from neurofibromatosis, and is dedicated to Byrd’s sister. It’s a curious choice, dedicating the album not to the person who died but to the person who experienced the greatest loss. Byrd undoubtedly loved his nephew, whom he describes as a “son-like figure,” and was devastated by the loss himself. The depth of his grief is evident in moments like the one from “Now and Not Yet” described above, in which Byrd seems to try to reach into heaven to touch his nephew one last time. But equally important is Byrd’s love for his sister and her grief.

Mysterium is perhaps the sparsest album Hammock has produced; a massive amount of the album’s hour-long runtime is devoted to the empty spaces between notes, where the band’s trademark bittersweet harmonies echo and fade rather than building to deafening post-rock soundscapes. It’s the musical equivalent of opening one’s mouth to say something comforting to a mourning loved one, before realizing there’s nothing to say and sitting in tense silence instead. That quiet tension is also present in the band’s approach to lyrics; most of the lyrics are sung, quite unintelligibly, by the Budapest Art Choir, and even when Byrd’s voice enters on “I Would Give My Breath Away,” his words are still mostly indecipherable due to the airy production. The lyrics that are intelligible are clumsy platitudes such as, “If I could give my breath away, I would.” On a lesser album, these qualities might be flaws, but on Mysterium they perfectly illustrate just how damn difficult it is to think of anything useful to say when someone you care about is hurting as deeply as Byrd’s sister was.

Mysterium does occasionally fill in the gaps between notes (such as on the title track) or layer the different parts in such a way that they weave in and out of each other, creating a sense of greater fullness (such as on “Remembering Our Bewildered Son”). These moments are subtle, and they certainly don’t approach the sweeping peaks of previous Hammock tracks like “The Air Between Us” and “Raising Your Voice…Trying to Stop an Echo,” but in the empty context of the album as a whole, they become overwhelming, the way a simple handhold can feel like a lifeline in a time of grieving. But Mysterium is an empathetic album, not a cathartic one, and even these moments are fraught with more tension than relief.

The closer, “This Is Not Enough (Epilogue),” feels more traditionally like a song than the more impressionistic tracks that preceded it; it’s the only track to include percussion, and the guitars are given the flexibility to move more fluidly than they did throughout the rest of the album. The drastic shift in sound, along with the knowledge that this last track is an epilogue, offer the sense that this song is viewing Byrd’s nephew’s death from a point of greater distance, after some time has passed. Some things have gone back to normal, and the loss doesn’t hurt quite as badly, or quite as consistently. But it still hurts, for both Byrd and his sister. Near the end of the song, strings enter the mix, and the track starts to swell as though building to a climactic release…and then it stops abruptly, pulling back before it can reach that catharsis. It’s a truly arresting moment that drives home the title of the song. Comforting words, musical tributes, and the passage of time are all still “not enough.”

And again, I think of Byrd and Thompson’s faith. Christian art has sought for centuries to make sense of death, especially early deaths of good people, but with Mysterium, Hammock has found something refreshingly honest to say on the subject. As Byrd himself put it, “When something like that happens, sometimes silence is the best answer, because you don’t know what to say when someone is experiencing that much grief.” Mysterium is a paradoxical achievement: a bold, breathtaking statement about the frustration of not being able to say anything at all.



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user ratings (46)
Chart.
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
hesperus
Contributing Reviewer
August 20th 2017


965 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

stream here, in case you missed the news article: https://daily.bandcamp.com/2017/08/18/stream-hammock-mysterium/



this is dangerously close to being my AOTY so far

zaruyache
August 20th 2017


18280 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

It's heresy for it to be anything but aoty.

Toad
August 20th 2017


1567 Comments


oh nice nice nice! sounds like a good slipping-into-sleep record

Digging: Anna Von Hausswolff - Ceremony

ComeToDaddy
August 20th 2017


1616 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Beaut review Hesp, did the album justice. I was a bit iffy on the density of choral vocals on this thing initially but they've grown on me so much

MistaCrave
August 20th 2017


2479 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Maybe I'm missing something, but after a listen I don't dig this that much. None of the tracks seem to have a distinctive mood or feel to me; it all kinda blends together into one directionless drone. I mean don't get me wrong, it's blissful, but I don't really get anything out of this other than that so far

Deubah
August 20th 2017


53 Comments


amazing review and this thing is already giving me chills within the first 2 minutes

theBoneyKing
August 20th 2017


13482 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Well this review just made me really excited to heard something I was pretty indifferent toward, so good job

Digging: Calexico - The Black Light

minty901
August 20th 2017


3581 Comments


This album is like the perfect companion to their album from last year. That was the best of their more upbeat (if you can call it that) and shoegazey material, while this is the best of their more ambient, neoclassical material. With Everything & Nothing and Mysterium, you pretty much have all the Hammock you'll ever need. I didn't like Oblivion Hymns all too much -- this is like the superior version of that album.

SowingSeason
Moderator
August 20th 2017


25429 Comments


For me, their last one was really dazzling and gorgeous, but also really overinflated and long - at times too patient for its own good. Is this more engaging?

Digging: Camila Cabello - Camila

minty901
August 20th 2017


3581 Comments


duno about more engaging as it is more ambient and less diverse but its one of their shortest albums. most of their albums are arguably too long for anything other than background music.

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
August 20th 2017


20383 Comments


hey nice review man (:

this sounds like its beautiful, might check. also the Christianity aspect is intriguing

zaruyache
August 20th 2017


18280 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

The melodies are beaut so I'd say it's a bit engaging.

Mongi123
August 20th 2017


18937 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Omg can't fucking wait to listen to this my body is ready xD

theBoneyKing
August 20th 2017


13482 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

If this is shorter than the one from last year it might be right up my alley.



Also interesting comment minty about this and Everything being the only ones you really need from them.

minty901
August 20th 2017


3581 Comments


and now i realise everything and nothing is their lowest rated album. what madness is this.


tacos n stuff
August 20th 2017


2802 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this band/duo is reaching impossible levels of consistency for me

zaruyache
August 20th 2017


18280 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

prob most consistent ambient project? Eluvium's up there too, but nowhere near this.

Lucid
August 20th 2017


8928 Comments


stars of the lid win for consistency. been retired for a while but what a run

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
August 20th 2017


17114 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Really great review. Everything and Nothing is one of their best, along with DS and the first two.



This brand of music does get long-winded and sleepy sometimes, but mostly it's really great stuff. The singles off this were really moving, so I'm sure it's gonna be another excellent release.

Lucid
August 20th 2017


8928 Comments


found this too corny and sentimental. death is real, not "dust swirling into your shape" and "things of beauty burn." the band's always been sappy though so I knew what I was getting into



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