Album Review: Chorusing – Half Mirror

[Western Vinyl; 2021]

Humble and meek music is hard to champion, but it’s certainly easy to mindlessly enjoy. When an artist isn’t trying to elicit reactions or provoke their audience, the relationship between their music and their listeners becomes almost amicable. Chorusing‘s debut album, Half Mirror, has this kind of quality. The moniker of North Carolina-based musician Matthew O’Connell, Chorusing makes music that’s the sound of a man playing for his own ends.

Fiddling with his own homemade synthesizers and trying to meld the sounds with what O’Connell describes as “confessional folk,” Half Mirror is an attempt to bridge electronic music with more acoustic elements. For the most part, it’s more like a sound experiment done for extra credit than any kind of strong statement about the complementary qualities of two different sonic avenues. O’Connell plays with space and time, helping both lean into the hushed, ruminative style of his singing, and letting the two sides of the musical coin mix together. When the music sounds like it’s left to its own devices, it’s like watching two liquids of different colours and consistency mingle about each other. Sometimes, the results are mesmerizing and softly fascinating, but more often than not the two elements never fuse in a way that is inherently engrossing.

O’Connell’s voice is never rousing enough to elicit direct interest, and often it sinks into the background like a radio left on while you cook, or a TV left talking while you clean in the other room. His words are soft and sometimes only half words of phrases are entirely discernible from his singing; only with headphones do his lyrics become clearer, if you focus your attention. He’ll sing of natural landscapes and talk in vague phrases. It’s on the hazy, reflective opening track “Cold” where the vocals are arguably at their best: a soothing, near wordless wail riding atop the CFCF-like percolating and perfume-esque guitar notes.

The other notable lyrical point is also the album highlight, “Watching the Beams”. As a single, it’s something of a red herring for the rest of the album’s more languorous style, but it’s no less fascinating. O’Connell’s voice is seeped in delay effects, singing ponderous phrases that feel strangely weighted: “Feel the distant pulse of industry / Hear the highway drum slow in the heat.” With its pulsating, fluorescent synth ripples, the whole thing is deliquescent (and helped all the more by its hypnotic video), even if it does feel like under explored territory.

There are pleasing moments elsewhere – the contemplative “Mirror” with its lingering, almost weightless pauses; the splashes of prickly synth on “Billowing” – but even they are far from remarkable. Half Mirror has a curious quality, especially considering O’Connell cut his teeth and spent his formative years steeped in Kentucky’s hardcore/punk scene. None of that fervour is here. The album slips into an unobtrusive melange of electric guitar noodling and synth backdrops, and even when one concentrates, it’s hard to keep your attention fixed. With its deliberately sparse setup, something feels lacking. There’s something almost academic running through the few veins here, like the songs are more captivating as visual waveforms than they are as music to sit and listen to. (Fittingly Half Mirror‘s cover art is actually a visual translation of its songs’ waveforms.) It’s a modest debut, and that’s the highest praise as O’Connell could ask for with an album this timid.