Halls - Ark
Listening to this album it is not difficult to ascertain the origin of Sam Howard, the one man behind Halls. Yep, you guessed it; London! Like many before him such as The XX, James Blake, Four Tet and Burial, Howard creates some epic, layered electronic tunes with some real warmth to them though you would be deceived from the first track 'I' to thinking you had stumbled upon a Tim Hecker B-side. Nevertheless, those moody organ tones and ambiguous ambient clutter in the background set the tone perfectly for this release of glitchy, stuttering beats, beautiful piano and organ tones and often reserved vocal performance.
As well as the above, I couldn't go through this review without mentioning the obvious influence that Thom Yorke's solo the album has had on this release especially on the polyrhythmic 'Shadow of the Colossus' and the haunting 'Reverie'. Halls' pastiches continue into other tracks such as his most recent single, 'White Chalk', which is extremely reminiscent of tracks like 'Once We All Agree' or 'A Case of You' from James Blake's Enough Thunder EP, with the long brooding keys and confessional lyrics. Though Howard's voice doesn’t really strike a chord with me and is a tad clinical at times it does the job and carries songs like 'While Chalk' sufficiently. The track really comes into its own with the introduction of some massive choral vocals, compressed to give them that slight gritty edge, cut through with some intricate tambourine samples.
Where Halls does deserve merit is on his falsetto delivery which could match a Justin Vernon croon any day especially on songs like 'I'm Not There', which I am particularly keen on because of the frankly odd use of violin tones which sound like they have been looped and reverberated to the point that they become just a musical pulse.
My favourite of the album easily goes to the cinematic 'Holy Communion'. The best way to imagine it would be to think of Burial becoming severely depressed, listening to tonnes of drone music and then just losing the plot all together and deciding to make a song to soundtrack an avant garde German film. Okay, I know to some that may hinder more than it helps, but just listen to it and I promise you will understand.
Truth be told, having looked forward to this album, my feelings having listened to it is one of utter apathy. While I have no issue with an artist wearing their influences on their sleeves, Halls just goes too far in my mind with very little in the way of original ideas. With this album you definitely get a great deal of style and flashy production to make up for what is a couple of half formed ideas and progressions and an okay voice. Even the stand out tracks of this album like 'Roses for the Dead' sounds fairly good in isolation, but there is always a small voice telling me to go and listen to Thom Yorke or whoever the main influence of a track is be it Bon Iver or Mount Kimbie. Who knows, had this album come out in the early 2000s I may have been blown away by it but I find that there is nothing new or even slightly revamped for me to sink my teeth into here.