Neil Halstead - Palindrome Hunches
Neil Halstead is one of those under the radar artists - underrated in his field. Probably best known as being in the hypnotic Slowdive or delivering incisive Americana with Mojave 3this is the third of his solo albums. And it's a beauty.
Palindrome Hunches is an album of deep-flowing indie folk that gets under your skin. Something that feels familiar and yet is new. Like the palindrome of the title rebounding from start to finish, as the last note fades you'll want to start over again. Any sense of twee that might come from the range of instruments, the fact it was recorded in a primary school music room and the quiet, soft-sung words is cut down by the lyrics and the depth of sound. There is deep sadness covered here, but always delivered with a gentle pragmatism.
Stand out track 'Wittgenstein's Arm' showcases this skill. The subject matter covers a pianist who loses his arm in the First World War, the tragedy compounded by the loss of three of his brothers to suicide. The main refrain of "death runs deep in this family, write a song for the left arm only" pierces, the warmth of the piano offering comfort while a violin laments the loss.
Throughout the album there are touches of tragedy, the sense of loss, of love leaving. What there isn't is any drama, it's not showy. It is all delivered with simplicity, a kindness but also a shrug that this stuff is as much a part of life as the other, happier, side of the coin. Quite often tracks build slowly; the soft voice blurred around the edges, the ghost of a backing vocal. Then piano, percussion, strings, and a picked guitar; musical drops into a melodic stream.
'Hey Daydreamer' is full of charm, straying into indiepop territory; a bouncing piano melody and an innocence in the sweetest of love-longing words. Careful construction and rich but simple production ensure this firmly in the indie end of the spectrum, that is not to its detriment but its merit.
Album closer 'Loose change' is downtempo foil to the almost-pop of its predecessor, the stronger backing vocals and insistent guitar bringing making sure it gains your attention. Close your eyes and let it run through you.
These songs are s a smile breaking the hold a smudgy sadness has taken on the soul. The words delivered gently, the layers of melody a soft landing after the lyrical blows. This is the sleepy melancholia of autumn approaching. An album that deserves your time.