Even when Pleasureland's songs fall into mellifluous melodies, HALEY broods and never seems satisfied with just being reflective. The darkness is ever present.
12 October 2018
Haley Bonar now uses just her first name as her professional moniker. After 17 years in the music business and nine albums as a folk-alt-indie rocker known for her sly wit and snappy vocals, the artist has transformed himself into something new. HALEY's first release as simply HALEY, Pleasureland, is totally instrumental. The songs are short and range from gentle piano ditties to digital synth collages. The 12 tracks run from 33 seconds to 3:57 in length, the vast majority clocking in at under three minutes. And the album itself is under 30 minutes in duration.
Listeners should be forewarned. The music on this disc is very different than what Haley has done before. That much is clear in the first 30 seconds of the opening cut, "Credit Forever Part 1", a swirling mix of electronic notes floating in the air. The term "credit forever" offers little insight into what the songs sound like—whether on the electronic part one or the more acoustic piano-based part two. They are two different tracks, not simply one synthesizer drenched and the other plain, and are reminiscent of Tomita's arrangements of Claude Debussy's "tone paintings" ala Snowflakes Are Dancing as compared with the original pieces.
HALEY's song titles can be suggestive (i.e., "Future Maps", "Infinite Pleasure Part 1", "Snake Moon"), but they don't really seem to define their contents. These songs could have just as easily been called, song one, song two, song three, etc. for all the names (don't) reveal. This is a little disconcerting considering the fact that Haley herself changed her appellation, which suggests she does consider the denotation of identity important. Indeed, sometimes the titles work against their connotations. For example, the soft and beautiful piece in which Mike Lewis blows a saxophone over Haley's gentle fingered piano playing is cryptically called "Pig Latin". As for what the album title Pleasureland refers to, one can only guess.
There is an easy grace to the material. Even the shrillest cuts, such as "Syrup" that features a distorted, dirty, electric guitar line, are subdued because they were recorded with silence as an essential feature of the song. The result is evocative in the same way that one's own bodily noises like a heartbeat and breathing can seem so loud in a soundless place. What is familiar and alien are really the same thing, depending on how one hears it.
The quietest pieces, such as "Next Time (For C)" offer the greatest pleasure. On this cut, Haley's accompanied by a cello and a violin that frame her simple melodic riffs into something more formal. There is a playfulness to the session, and even a tinge of wistfulness as if one is reminiscing about a more innocent time. As the "C" in the title refers to her daughter, this makes a sort of sense as if Haley is seeing her youth through a young girl's eyes.
Pleasureland also features videos made by HALEY and other collaborators. They are low-budget and often soft-focused affairs, and have a dreamy quality to them. There is something surreal in their use of imagery, whether it be of a woman with a knife, electric power lines, old television footage, or grandma getting a late night phone call about a colonoscopy. The same could be said about the music on the disc. There songs have a pensive tone, yet are also a bit disquieting. Even when they fall into mellifluous melodies, HALEY broods and never seems satisfied with just being reflective. The darkness is ever present.