It seems so logical in retrospect. Combine lush abstract ambient guitar pieces (a la Robin Guthrie or Yellow6 or Lanterna) with solid shoegaze tunes (echoes of Slowdive and Shellyan Orphin), and even add some post-shoegaze droning (a la Bethany Curve or Portal), mix freely in an album, and serve up loud. Logical, isn't it? An album, in this case Kenotic, that floats by on a haze of guitar noise, occasionally burbling up into full grown tunes that either rock along or meander for a bit, before going back under the surface of the guitar haze. If it's so logical, why hasn't anyone else really done anything like this? Well, i suppose that Bethany Curve came close with their Flaxen release, but Kenotic, the debut album by Hammock, does it completely.
Hammock are a two piece act from Franklin, TN (that's just outside of Nashville) consisting of Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson. They produced, wrote, and played the 16 tunes that make up Kenotic with occasional help (cello, voice, piano) from a few friends, but mostly it's just them. And the music they make is lovely. This album consists of wandering guitar lines, abstract effected beauty, chorused and echoed, floating hazily along. Occasionally something more like what most people would call a "song" does form, and, when it does, it's even better, as if all of the beautiful abstract elements just suddenly coalesce into a full tune.
Quite simply, i adore this album. It's everything i listen to all rolled up into one convenient package. Now, not everyone will like this. It does move along at a languid pace for the most part, and it is largely instrumental, just letting the guitarwork speak for itself. Still, it's a very tranquil and relaxing album, yet is never boring. Byrd and Thompson know their way around both a fretboard and a stomp box of effects pedals, and they keep the textures interesting.
It's really hard to describe purely ambient guitar music (just look at my attempts to review some of Yellow6's releases and you'll see how difficult it can be), but that type of music only makes up about half of Kenotic. As to the other half, well, as i said, they are full songs, not purely abstract musings. Songs are a heck of a lot easier to talk about when you are writing a review, so i'll just go over a few highlights.
The album starts with a nice piano bit, tinkling along lightly, on Before the Celebration. This fades in The Air Between Us in which guitars enter the fray and swell up into a swirling haze backed by a nice, but simple, drum riff. Lovely.
A few tunes later on Blankets of Night, suddenly there is a female voice, high pitched and singing abstractly. The voice (apparently that of Christine Glass Byrd) is soft, soprano, and reminds me of the vocals of Shellyan Orphin. There is also a cello line, played by Matt Slocum, which nicely contrasts with the voice. This is a simple beautiful tune.
Next are a few of the purely ambient pieces, including Miles to Go Before I Sleep which i think is the best of these types of tunes on the album. It features a deep bass sound rumbling in the background, some strange clattering and humming electronical percussion noises, and then cascading layers of guitar, building and tumbling over one another.
Wish starts with a nice keyboard riff that sounds very 80s to me. Eventually a harmonium (or one of those droning style instruments) comes in, followed by a funky little drum riff (which sounds like it comes from a drum machine), and echoed guitar. This tune reminds me of the instrumental work that Wang Chung did on the soundtrack to the movie To Live and Die in L.A.. A really cool song, and one of my favorites here.
Overcast/Sorrow starts with a slow, echoed guitar haze, wandering lightly. Then a tapped (hand played) drum comes in, accompanied by a cello, and the tune generates a meditative mood that reminds me a lot of the tone that Auburn Lull are so successful in creating with their compositions. After a minute or so of this meditative riffing, a really solid drum beat starts up, and suddenly the song rocks! It might very well be the most energetic point of the whole disc, simply wonderful.
The album's title track, Kenotic starts with some really nice drumming and a slow, steady guitar drone. The drum riff is really great: it's loping and fun, and it drives the song along nicely. The two guitar lines that dance over it are pretty nice too: one is a distorted arpeggio that reminds me of something Lanterna would do, and the other is a low chiming a la Robin Guthrie.
The final song i want to mention is What Heaven Allows. This is somewhat atypical for Hammock, in that this is a distorted rocker, less Slowdive and more My Bloody Valentine. It starts with a burbling synth sound which is eventually joined by some nice, hard drumming, whirling guitars, and an angry male voice. The voice is hard to hear, lost as it is in the guitar haze, but, combined with the drumming, it gives this song a hint of menace. This shows that Hammock can rock out when they want to.
Now, i have discussed less than half of the 70 minutes that make up this CD, but there really are no stinkers here. Hammock have done a damned fine job, and i am very impressed. I truly wonder what they are going to do next, and would like to take this opportunity to encourage the band to come down to Atlanta to play live. I would love to see this stuff performed live.
In short, if you like shoegaze and/or ambient guitarwork, you need to get this album.