Following on from the LA painted balladeering of The Thrills, the gate has been flung open for all manner of hairy crooners to waltz us like it’s 1967 again. For example, big things are expected for the Mamas and Papas glucose of The Magic Numbers, while their touring mates of this year, Hal are in a similar time warp. And while it’s clear already what to expect from the double sibling assault of the aforementioned band, it’s pleasantly refreshing to report that Hal’s eponymous-titled debut is an altogether different bag.
The best part of ‘Hal’ is that it’s not the record you’ll tiredly expect. Take for example, the soul wigout of opener and previously single ‘What A Lovely Dance’, complete with it’s bittersweet September chorus. ‘Don’t Come Running’ is a ‘yeehaw mama said’ of a track with enough twisted psychedelic edges to avoid humdrum until it explodes into a jazz chorded outro. Genuinely nice_, mate. ‘I Sat Down’ is a nice collusion of Ryan Adams, dark soul and plinky plonky chamber music. Perhaps the standout track is the marvellously two-tone ‘My Eyes Are Sore’, a song deceptively simple that swells and blooms into a widescreen slide guitar and harmonised beauty.
It’s not all alleys and twists and turns though, ‘Worry About The Wind’ is a blue skied bluster of a summer treat, but it’s better when the band provoke raised eyebrows. Otherwise Hal can travel all the way to the occasionally mawkish as the Simon and Garfunkel at the wrong end of the career spectrum white soul that is ‘Keep Love As Your Golden Rule’ testifies. “don’t listen to what they say – keep going you’ve gone all this way” is a cliché that can be done without. ‘Satisfied’ too falls into said category.
However, the closing duo of ‘Slowdown (You Got A Friend)’ and ‘Coming Right Over’ are a more than redemptive remedy. In fact it’s enough to break out your old Harry Nilsson LPs. ‘Slowdown…’ is a plaintive, stripped down ballad ensuring that economy of effort is always the way to go for affecting, whilst ‘Coming Right Over’ adopts a similar agenda except with gospel choirs and that mighty final minute of folk-Floyd stew. Marvellous.
So what is there to learn here? How about ‘Hal are generally good, although they’re usually better when they’re trying to blow our minds rather than win our heart’. That’ll do…
7Michaela Annot's Score