Below the Waterline is a vehicle
to showcase Hinterland's vocalist, Michaela Galloway. While
she sings in a wide range of styles which bring to mind Alison
Shaw or Kate Bush at times, she ultimately cannot resist
the draw of the diva demonstrating her pitch and range rather
than presenting a coherent and cohesive sound.
The album features a live sounding instrumental mix of guitars, bass and drums, presented in a spare and clear setting. Occasionally augmented by restrained keyboards and woodwinds. Slow to moderate tempos predominate. Despite three of the five musicians having guitar credits, solos and flashy leads are largely absent. The most successful tracks on this release are those that mesh this background with an appropriate lead vocal. For instance, Red-Light Camera features the most restrained and least overdubbed vocal performance and is the standout for that reason. Wasntevenwinded similarly builds slowly; a brooding minor key dominates and the voice blends in, effectively establishing a Gothic tone.
For the rest of the disc, however, the atmospheric setting
suffers from the injection of Galloway's mannered, multitracked
voice, as it quivers and quavers. She hits as many long sustained
notes for as long as possible, whether or not they fit the mood
and tone set by the band, and regardless of whether or not they
add anything to the song. The dead giveaway here is the thank
you in the credits to the Vancouver Opera Company. You can just
picture her in a Valkyrie getup, horned helmet and all. Therefore,
Below the Waterline ends up sounding like a day off
from rehab on a tour of the helium factory. Grating. The disc
really reaches a nadir with Tiger Tiger, featuring a
precious, breathy "little girl lost in a cruel world" routine
reminiscent of the worst of The
For some, the display of technique is a means to its own end. Here, however, the annoying display of virtuousity is compounded by its clash with the underlying backing tracks. They are carefully put together, with restraint as the keyword and using subtle instrumental touches to establish a consistent mood, tone and direction. The result of adding the overly mannenered and overly dubbed vocals to that base is like crinoline on cowpie. They just don't go together.
This is not meant to disrespect the band, who are clearly capable, but who are also working within the constraints of the scheme for Below the Waterline. The guitar style calls to mind David Gilmour or Robert Fripp in its repeated figures and ability to focus on sounds rather than flashy technique for its own sake. The band seems like they are just waiting to bust out and free themselves from the restraints imposed upon them. Portrait of my Invention in particular features a fiery, passionate performance. The contrast between the verses and the chorus defines the flaws of this disc as restrained, appropriate verses are offset and dragged down by the caterwauling chorus.
This disc sinks below the waterline gradually, as what was intended to be atmosperic becomes monotonous and plodding. And excessive virtuousity becomes a millstone around the neck that even the most dogged band cannot support.