[29 July 2010]
According to the press release, Chasing After Shadows…Living with the Ghosts is “able to convey one’s innermost longings into sound, making for an indescribable affirmation of the spirit”.
Hammock’s fourth LP then is…well, their fourth “affirmation of the spirit” as it pretty much offers the same experience as their first three: beautiful, absorbing layers of reverb-drenched guitars (with more emphasis on reverb than guitar) caressing at slow-motion tempos, occasionally with unobtrusive full band backing, always emphasizing texture and color over melody and movement.
You won’t hear longtime fans complaining. As far as background music goes, this is top-shelf stuff, evoking the spirits of contemporaries like Explosions in the Sky and (a less cathartic and varied) Sigur Ros, serving as perfect sonic accompaniment for the half-dreams that plague a restless sleep. Appropriate title, too—there are ghosts and shadows aplenty in these sparse, delicate arrangements, hiding in the knobs of Marc Byrd’s and Andrew Thompson’s effects pedals. Maybe too many. Halfway through the album, particularly on ultra slow-moving tracks like “The Whole Catastrophe” and the almost nine-minute “In the Nothing of the Night”, the euphoria starts to wear off, and it becomes difficult not to beg for a fresh chord change or a new instrument.
The most effective, visceral moments are the rare few where the surprising details creep in. Opener “The Backward Step” does the trick right out of the gate, led by a nifty bass riff, a tricky rhythm, and some particularly well-placed tambourine splashes. When the “angelic vocals” of Christine Glass Byrd appear midway through “Breathturn”, the effect is both jolting and awe-inspiring.
Beauty can be slippery. A fair amount of preciousness can do wonders. Work it too hard and it becomes numbing. On Chasing After Shadows…Living with the Ghosts, Hammock still have the goods, but they walk the line firmly.