I am going to level with you here folks. I will, as they say, get down to where the cheese binds; I am a huge, irredeemable sucker for shoegaze. When I was 12 or 13 years old and I heard My Bloody Valentine for the first time I felt like I was listening to music that I had been yearning for all of my short life but had never heard until then. I did not hear the term “shoegaze” until many years later, but I was a massive fan of the sound and/or genre right from the get-go. Indeed, I am so enthralled with albums like Loveless, Milk and Kisses, and Souvlaki that I have a fairly high tolerance for second and even third rate versions of these dreamy masterpieces.
Luckily for me, there is no shortage of new-school shoegaze bands moping around out there these days; some of them are as good as the original crop, many others are less so. The atmospheric, reliable Hammock falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. On the one hand, they have certainly established “their sound” and have stuck to it since 2005 or thereabouts. When you pick up a Hammock record you pretty much know what you are going to get: big, sweeping, semi-ambient tracks inspired by Pymalion era Slowdive, and most of Sigur Rós’ output. Hammock pump out nice, pretty shoegaze for old fogies like me who want to party like its 1992. The down-side to this is that Hammock’s records sound strikingly similar to one another, and songcraft tends to take a backseat to atmosphere. This is pretty much the difference between a band like Hammock and a band like Slowdive; Hammock are not all that interested in writing cohesive, memorable songs, focusing almost exclusively on setting a mood, while Slowdive do both of these things at the same time. Hammock’s sprawling, probably too-long Departure Songs epitomizes the band’s tendency to set a pleasant, consistent mood that never really goes anywhere and never really pays off.
Over Departure Songs‘s slightly overwhelming two discs, 19 tracks, and 1:49:50 run time, the listener is treated to beautiful, lush tracks that tend to blur into one another and rarely reach anything that could be described as a climax. Even for diehard fans of the genre like myself it is hard to reach the end of Departure Songs without yawning a few times; there is just not a tremendous amount of variation on these tracks. Particular tracks feature specific sounds that tinkle or drone in the background, such as the lurching, mid-record high point “Dark Circles” which features some nice bells and percussion. But in general, it is difficult to identify specific tracks throughout this often exhausting collection as so many of them sound like the previous one.
Hammock’s cover of Catherine Wheel’s glorious shoegaze anthem “Black Metallic” that came out back in 2005 is perhaps Hammock’s most memorable song to date and this really illustrates the point I am trying to make here: Hammock are a really great band that can throw down with the best of them when they have the right material to work with, but most of the time they neglect the songwriting part of their craft. Fans of Hammock will dig Departure Songs as it sounds a great deal like their other records. If I heard that Hammock were playing live in my neck of the woods, a big, dreamy, dopey smile would spread across my face and I would buy my ticket ASAP; however, I am not sure how many more times I am going to make it all the way through Departure Songs.