A YEAR IN MUSIC: 2014
Review by: Andreas Georgi
Peter Hammill is a rare breed. Very few rock artists in their 60’s are still producing top quality material that is not rehashing their old glory. This album is a welcome new addition to his work.
Peter Hammill’s discography is long, convoluted, highly eclectic, and it must be said, rather erratic. After a long relative weak patch in the late 80’s and 90’s he’s been on an upswing in the last 12 years or so. Starting with 2009’s “Thin Air”, he has released consistently challenging and rewarding music. His music is intense, dark, and defies categorization. His recent work incorporates a lot of avant-garde elements like sound treatments and dissonance. Hammill’s work is never “easy listening”, and his albums always take repeated listenings to reveal themselves to the listener. This certainly applies to this new album. I’ve been a big fan of his music, and of his recent work, so I am not coming at this new album as a novice. Nevertheless I have to say that it’s taken time to grow on me over the last couple of months – more so that his previous albums. The first listening was underwhelming, to be honest. Ultimately, though, I have come to appreciate it as another high point in his career.
The album, comes in 3 formats. There are two versions of the CD release. The “Cine” version is like a movie for the ears, with short segments moving in and out in a continuous sequence. This is the version PH considers the “primary” one. The format reminds me of his “Incoherence” album (2003), but this one is much more eclectic and certainly doesn’t suffer from that album’s monochromatic “sameyness”. The release I have is a 3-CD set that has two further versions. The “Songs” version presents the material in a relatively conventional individual song format, although listening to this, it will be evident that there is nothing conventional about these songs. The third format are versions of the basic instrumental tracks. This version is very good, but ultimately not as impressive as the other two, although it does verify that the music has a definite cinematic feel to it. Listening to this disk, I am reminded a bit (although it shouldn’t be overstated) of Peter Gabriel’s movie music. Having 3 versions (2 with vocals) probably didn’t help me absorb the material into my gray matter. Perhaps I should have familiarized myself with one version at a time.
As far as a “plot” for the “movie” goes – I have no idea what it is. PH rarely spells out his ideas in a didactic “message song” way. The only thing I can say is that it seems the characters get themselves in rather unpleasant circumstances. The whole album has a sense of ambiguity and precariousness throughout it. The musical elements are the ones that he has used in the recent past, and it sounds most similar to 2012’s “Consequences”. He uses overdubbed falsetto vocals as a counterpoint to the lead vocals’ narration, which have been compared to a Greek chorus. The music itself tends to me mostly slow-paced with relatively sparse, often echoing instrumentation.
So, in a nutshell, this is another solid contribution to PH’s discography, and fans who like his recent works will definitely want to pick it up, and won’t be disappointed – just be prepared to give it time.
This review is also posted on Amazon here.