No Pain In Pop
Nov 20, 2012 Issue #43 - Animal Collective
"I'll build you up to pull you down, tie you to the stake and watch you burn in hell," sang Thom Yorke on "Cuttooth," one of the NEU!-ish B-sides to Radiohead's 2001 single "Knives Out." The lyrics could easily have referred to the plethora of young musicians whose voices sway between tenor and falsetto and are accompanied by glitch electronica, thus leading to the inevitable comparisons with Yorke himself—which is where 21-year-old South Londoner Sam Howard, aka Halls, slots neatly in.
In spite of the gloomy, anti-theistic imagery that seems to define much of Yorke's work and its contrast with the gospel facade and church recordings of Ark, such comparisons cannot be dismissed as glib. Howard has described himself as non-religious, and the overall feel of the album is not one of spirituality but of space. That kind of urgent-yet-soothing atmosphere that characterised the best tracks on Yorke's The Eraser is once again present (indeed almost aped) here, especially on highlights such as "Roses for the Dead" and "Reverie."
In their press releases, Halls are/is often described as a one-man-and-his-keyboard outfit, which makes it something of a curio that the most interesting tracks on here are those where (presumably synthesised) percussion is to the fore, such as "I'm Not There," "Shadow of the Colossus," and the awesome "Holy Communion"; the latter of which is without a doubt the strongest track here and indeed one of the best ambient electronica tracks of the year. Howard's music may not seem suited to a sweaty Hoxton basement, but when I caught a sneak preview of some of these tracks live earlier this summer it was impressive how well he held the capricious crowd of London hipsters.
Ark may not be as strong at its more spacious, xx-esque moments, as it can struggle to hold the attention when Halls aim for the ambient. Nonetheless, stick with it and this is one of the year's more rewarding efforts.
Author rating: 7.5/10