The path that Neil Halstead has tread to end up at this current point is a tangled and nebulous one–tracing it out will give us no further insight into his current situation than just taking this statement at face value. His beginnings with that legendary shoegaze group on Creation? A figment of years long past. His work with a notably dreamy alt-country group? Similarly a distant echo of past work. Through the long and winding road of his career post-Slowdive, Neil Halstead appears to have found a semi-permanent home on Brushfire Records. Yes, for those of you following along at home, somewhere along the line, Halstead ditched the swaths of reverb, picked up his nylon stringed acoustic guitar, and strummed and hummed his way on over to a record label run by Jack Johnson.
That question of the origins of this musical diversion was largely answered back in 2002 with the release of his first solo record, Sleeping On Roads. Though still largely reliant on the underwater Americana stylings of his Mojave 3 days, this solo debut still represented a departure for Halstead, a resurfacing from the ocean of musical and lyrical obscurity, swimming to the top and allowing himself to finally be heard. Halstead’s move was to strip his tunes bare, presenting just the songs in an era where digital manipulation and effect saturation would become increasingly important and expected.
With Palindrome Hunches, Halstead’s second album for Brushfire, he largely continues to ignore any impressions of what’s cool or trendy, opting instead for a continuation of the Volkswagen advertisement-informed take on shuttered UK folk tunes. Though we’re used to hearing Halstead’s previous projects labeled with the “dreamy” signifier (and though previous solo efforts tread a similar path), it’s still no less surprising that he sounds damn near asleep, even from the opener of this new record. “Digging Shelter”’s narcoleptic finger picking, slow piano plinks and stage whispered vocals find Halstead heavily entrenched in late-night mode.
That’s not to imply, however, that these tracks are constructed in any sort of lazy or ill-begotten manner; rather, that the world of Palindrome Hunches is a tough one to reach. Though silence and space have in recent years found a fitting home in moody electronic music, the lackadaisical hush of Halstead’s music is decidedly removed from any current movement in the indie music realm. Even though the markers of the sound are familiar (the banjo on “Palindrome Hunches,” the Nick Drake inflected guitar work on “Love Is A Beast”), the mood and tempo is so relaxed that any connection to the songs remain difficult.
There are icky MOR connotations that have slowly attached their tendrils to the mood largely recalled by tracks like “Full Moon Rising,” but as the violins kick in it’s clear that this world is far more Five Leaves Left than Dad Rock and everything feels alright. Palindrome Hunches is the bead of sunlight that breaks your blinds at dawn. Somewhere in that barely conscious state your thoughts swirl and everything seems profound. With your covers up to your chin, all feels right and you drift back to sleep. Though the monumental works of Halstead’s career may remain firmly in his past, he’s hit on some infrequently explored emotional territory on this new solo record. Though it may take some time to grow accustomed to, this is a record you’ll want to wrap yourself up in.
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