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21 December 2013

Hammock: Oblivion Hymns (Hammock/Bandcamp)

First, I can’t believe that Hammock isn’t on a label and is just releasing this gorgeous music on their own via Bandcamp. This was my first exposure to them, despite that they’ve been recording and releasing music for nearly ten years already. Anyone who is a fan of gorgeous instrumental music should immediately order this from the band directly. It really is phenomenal. I feel inarticulate merely gushing and not describing, but it is that good. For some context, when I first fired up this album, admittedly it was on a day that I received some especially tragic personal news — the loss of someone in my life. I certainly don’t want to exploit that turn of events on here, but it did lend an extra heavy gravitas to Oblivion Hymns, which swells with the big catharsis I really needed at that very moment. I wondered if it was merely a case of timing, that this album resonated for me so, but repeated listens have wowed and moved me equally. Each piece on Oblivion Hymns feels like its own catharsis, including opener “My Mind Was a Fog… My Heart Became a Bomb.” Surely there’s some drama in these track titles alone, and they’re reflected in the big, swooning arrangements of the music itself. It would run the risk of all feeling too sentimental or cloying if it weren’t so damn perfect. They really get it right here, nary a note out of place.

“Then the Quiet Explosion” uses a children’s choir to great effect, sounding chilling and touching on something so vulnerable all at once.

There’s something so familiar about the strident refrain of “Turning Into Tiny Particles… Floating Through Empty Space” that feels comforting even while its title denotes such a vulnerability and smallness, contrasting its big, soaring arrangement of guitar and strings. A similar dreamy arrangement works to great effect on “Holding Your Absence,” another sentiment that resonates for me personally, the notion of holding space and longing for someone.

The choir returns on “I Could Hear the Water at the Edge of All Things,” giving it a ghostly innocence that is as sweet as it is haunting. Only on closing track “Tres Dominé” does an adult voice lead the way, and it’s so clear and in the foreground as to be startling. I originally didn’t care much for this epilogue of sorts, but came around to deciding that it’s somehow totally appropriate after 9 tracks of weeping strings and reverb. Tim Showalter’s guest vocal is strong and clear, a reminder that for all of the forlorn melancholy of the album (art imitating life?) that all is not lost. It’s a resonating, final human touch on an album that practically aches with beauty. Surely one of the strongest albums of the year.

Buy it: Hammock Music

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