Search The Line of Best Fit
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Halls – Ark
11 October 2012, 08:59 Written by Laurence Day

Hailing from South London, 21-year old producer Samuel Howard – better known by his alter-ego Halls – drops his debut effort Ark, on No Pain In Pop, nine months after the much-talked-about Fragile EP.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the multi-instrumentalist, whose choir-meets-rave blend of quasi-religious electronica and strung-out percussion has gone down a treat. Howard maintains he’s not religious, though this sonic sermon will surely convert more than a few non-believers.

Ark is a bustling mesh of chattering and found noises, overlaid with a solemn solo church organ. The singular instruments dominate with monophony, breathing a gut-punching sense of depth and melancholic life-affirmation into the LP straight away. It feels like a tribute, like something terrible has happened and this is the soundtrack to the news coverage. Falling seamlessly into ‘White Chalk’, there’s a great burden of tragedy, interspersed with the faintest of white lights. A musical theme flows through most of the record – grief that meets with a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel, as if told through the eyes of a neo-Renaissance composer with a penchant for electronica and dance music.

The whole album is deeply personal, an ode to introverts perhaps. There are the operatic flourishes of a choir, pirouetting around secular synths and the hints of electronica that remind us that Halls is not actually delivering hymns. Skittery, anxious drums and expansive keys (sometimes even an acoustic guitar joining the fray), combined with his restrained vocals skew the sounds in favour of the sad; but this is not a depressing release – well, it is partly, but it has marvellous moments of uplift which save it from giving off too suicidal a vibe.

Title track ‘Ark’ reverberates around an empty cathedral. It’s a tad Pachelbel-y, but this familiar chord sequence brings a kind of celebration to the otherwise traumatic piano solo. ‘Funeral’ injects raw passion into the record – the Oliver Sim/Thom Yorke vocal style humanises the disconnected beat, flickering in a midnight darkness of almost silent synth. Howard shows his electronica side more here, giving him a sound which leans towards The xx or James Blake – though without the wobble. ’Shadow Of The Colossus’ does, however, give us a bit of dubstep drums and some massive synth noises: this one’s intense.

This is a fantastic release from a homegrown artist who’s poised to take the fast-track to fame – especially in a post-electro world where there needs to be a clear distance from the well-trodden path of flimsy indietronica. If it were a concept album, it’d be flawless – there’s plenty of rich material to sink your hungry teeth into, and a consistent theme running strong throughout. However, there’s nothing to suggest that it is a concept album. What is clear is that this is a fantastic debut and surely a contender for album of the year.

Listen to Ark

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