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07 December 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Hammock | Universalis. Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz.

Hammock - Universalis (Hammock Music)

Ah, another Hammock release to savor and muse about. It is always a joy to unwrap a new suite of Hammock songs and immerse myself in it. It is akin to a spiritual experience to connect with music straight from the heart and mind of this brilliant Nashville group.

There is little information in the liner notes for this album. We know that Marc Byrd’s wife Christine contributes vocals, and Matt Kidd of Slow Meadow plays keyboards and helped with editing on some tracks. To achieve the marvelous skeins of sound on Universalis, they brought in Francesco Donadello (A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Olafur Arnalds, Johann Johannsson) and Peter Katis (Interpol, Jonsi, The National), who each mixed portions of the album.

They create and render this beautifully intricate music that could easily have come from another world. It is cerebral, fraught with emotion, and leaves you pondering so many things in your life. It is the second of a three album series, and while the last album Mysterium was awash in darkness, Universalis is suffused with light and the warmth of these organic compositions. This release may remind long time listeners of their 2006 classic Raising Your Voice...Trying to Stop an Echo while also keeping the deep ambient, neoclassical format of Mysterium. At this writing, the band has released four singles from this album, all of them great.

“Mouth to Dust...Waiting” hovers on the periphery like a newly dawned sun, and its lush instrumental passages enfold you in a gem-studded musical tapestry. The string sections are crisp and immediate, and while there is hope dotting the horizon, there is also longing and great sadness woven into the musical threads of this album opener. “Scattering Light” is a gentle follow on tune, with minimalist percussion and a gradual layered escalation of sound. I can certainly understand why it was chosen as a single. It is also slightly trippy in that dreamy way only Hammock can pull off, again and again. The title track is equally beautiful, and as moving as anything I’ve heard from the band. There is a slight urgency underlying the beautiful main melody, and it haunts long after the song fades away.

“Cliffside” paints bright colors over gray strands of melancholy, and ends all too soon. I associate “Always Before Your Eyes” with the sea, and I am not sure why that is. Perhaps I am on a midnight sail with bright stars overhead, yet I sense danger lurking in the waves. It reminds me of Daniel Land’s riverrun project, and maybe that is why the ocean keeps coming up as I listen. “Tether of Yearning” holds out hope that things will improve, and never wavers in its conviction. “Clothed with Sky” is spare and minimalist, short and sweet with simple piano at its fore. Voices are added in a bit later, along with magnificent string movements. Just gorgeous! “Thirst” is mesmerizing post rock, the perfect soundtrack for an art film yet to be made. “We Watched You Disappear” is pensive and somber, and I can only think of people who leave us, whether it’s an intentional action, or they leave this earthly plane. It is possibly the finest song among a set of great tunes, but that is all up to the listener. The final tune “Tremendum” may have you wondering, what does it all mean? Hammock has this effect on me always, splitting open my skull and forcing me to really listen. I listen to other instrumental music, but none of it has this effect on me. It is a great upwelling of emotion as the song takes hold, yet it attains a certain distance as it moves past and draws to a close.

Universalis is not music to dance to, yet you might find yourself weaving about to a tune only you can hear. It is deeply personal music and it’s almost a feat of magic to get this across to listeners, yet Hammock has a great talent for doing so. No fan of this band should pass this record up, and interested listeners should definitely pick it up.

Catch up with the band over on Facebook and pick up the album on their Bandcamp page.