[30 October 2001]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Emptiness hangs in the air throughout James William Hindle’s self-titled album, along with an eternal search for something to grasp onto. The album’s eight tracks, a mix of originals and covers, exude a feeling of quiet melancholy, the atmosphere that reigns when you’re gently, sadly walking through the world watching other people and their lives while pondering your own, considering major changes.
That constant consideration brings with it feelings of uneasiness and anxiety, anticipation and loneliness. Hindle’s words trap those feelings in mid-air, making them as clear as they can be. Take these lyrics from the first track, “Down and Able”, an example, as he paints a portrait of stillness: “Four weeks seem endless when you’re stuck in the first one / And now it’s four in the morning, it feels like the light will never come.”
Each song’s beginning offers the sense that the narrator’s finding himself at a pivotal place in his life, that so much more has come before than us listeners can know (more heartbreak, more joy, more complexities, more everything) and that now is the time to figure out what comes next. That sense is conveyed through the notes and sounds as much as the words. Hindle’s melodic pop-folk songs immediately transport you into a certain state of being, an emotional place more than a geographic one. Hindle’s voice also has the perfect mix of weariness and optimism, giving the songs hope to match their sadness. And it’d be foolish to overlook the role the instrumentation plays in creating an atmosphere here. Acoustic guitar, bass and drums give everything a sparse, raw feel, and then on several tracks there’s the sublime addition of beautifully heartwrenching stings.
Hindle, from Yorkshire, England, recorded this album in San Francisco, California (with the help of a few notable musicians including Tarnation’s Paula Frazer, who sings a gorgeous duet with Hindle on the song “Sparky Marcus”, and American Music Club’s Tim Mooney), and released it through Badman Recording Co., a label run by Mark Kozelek, who with the Red House Painters and solo has made a career of capturing atmospheres similar in spirit to those of Hindle. While I don’t know whether Hindle has moved to the US or was just visiting, the fact that the album’s roots cross countries jibes well with the album’s theme of making decisions with your life. For while many of Hindle’s songs deal with love relationships there’s also the recurrent theme of the directions our lives take, of how we act on a daily basis and why.
That theme builds to the album’s final track, its most hopeful point, a cover of Glenn Campbell’s “Less of Me”. The song is a manifesto of sorts, or a prayer . . . a wish to do better with one’s life, to think less selfishly. It provides nice closure to the album, leaving listeners with the thought that there are ways to fill the emptiness, that the difficult choices we make in our lives can take us in positive, meaningful directions as well as confusing and complicated ones.