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Chasing After Shadows ... Living with the Ghosts

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Hammock have long been a favorite artist here at EvilSponge, and they are back with their fourth full-length release. Since we have reviewed their other releases, why not do this one as well? This is typical Hammock -- a collection of long, slow songs built out of hazes of guitar, strings, and keyboards.

Hammock have a definite sound to them. Although i listen to a lot of music that is made from guitars fed through a ton of effects and combined with subtle percussion and slow washes of synthesizers, i can recognize a Hammock song instantly when it comes up in the "shuffle" mode on my Zune. The thing is, i can't really point to any one thing that defines the Hammock sound per se. In fact, if you just analyze any one element (the guitars, the synths, or the percussion), it could be from any band (Lights Out Asia and Yellow6 on guitars, Loscil and Thomas Fehlmann on synths, Venice is Sinking or Talk Talk on percussion).

The logical next thought is "What aspect of the Hammock sound is unique to the way they combine the instrumentation?" I have pondered that thought for a while, and i am not sure. Again, there are plenty of acts that use a similar combination -- Lights Out Asia, Bitcrush, Epic45, Avrocar, etc,. etc. I do not think that they are doing anything unique as far as combination of sounds either.

I think, after pondering this for months while putting off actually writing this review, that there is some "tone" to Hammock's music that is lacking in other artists. Hammock make instrumental post-rock that borders on ambient, but there is a certain emotionality to their music that is often missing in ambient. Most ambient music is amorphous, and it can affect ones mood in a generalized way. It is like a Rorschach ink blot -- the listener projects onto the music what they are feeling/experiencing at the time. I know that at times ambient music can me angry, annoyed, joyous, happy, lonely, or excited. The whole range of emotions is contained with the template of the music, and that is part of its strength and appeal.

Hammock, on the other hand, are always joyous. There is a certain happiness, a certain celebration of being alive that they convey. I am not sure how they do it, but listening to Hammock is uplifting in a way that other ambient music is not, and this is what makes their music recognizable.

Chasing After Shadows ... Living with the Ghosts is about 72 minutes of this music, and is a lovely addition to their catalog. Let's examine a few of the standouts here.

Breathturn features a strange creaking noise, which reminds me of Orbital's The Box. However, Hammock combine the creaking with layers of synths and guitars, and wordless singing. Really lovely. Dust Is The Devil's Snow take a slightly different angle, combining a wavering drone with keys that tinkle like rain. Eventually an acoustic guitar comes in, driving the song forward, and then an electric guitar wanders in, seemingly lost from a Lights Out Asia album. All of these layers combine to make something really beautiful. This might be one of the standout tracks of Hammock's entire career.

Little Fly/Mouchette adds strings to the Hammock sound. A cello saws deep in the background, and then at the halfway mark the strings well up around the guitars for a lovely effect. And then there is You Lost The Starlight In Your Eyes, a nine minute opus that starts in a typical Hammock song manner with layers of guitar chugging along, one of them sounding like a slide guitar. As you listen you notice that there is a distinct bass riff, something that you do not notice in many Hammock songs. And then, suddenly, they start singing. I am not talking about the wordless vocals that have been added to many Hammock songs over the years -- this song features honest vocals. There is a lyric sheet for this tune somewhere! In a sense, this is the most "traditional" rock tune that Hammock have ever done. Okay, it might be a long slow tune that crawls along, and it might be too long to ever get commercial radio play, but it is not drastically different from what a lot of other bands are doing. And they manage to pull it off.

Each time i listen to this record, i find something new and interesting to enjoy. There are so many layers here that a listener can spend a long time exploring the depths of these songs. People who have enjoyed previous Hammock albums will enjoy this. If you have enjoyed their music previously, well, what the heck is wrong with you? No, seriously -- Hammock offer something special, and i encourage everyone to check them out.

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Also on EvilSponge:
   Album: Kenotic
   EP: Stranded Under Endless Sky
   Album: Raising Your voice ... Trying to Stop an Echo
   Album: Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow


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