Coastal: Halfway to You (Words on Music, 2004)

by Brent

Coastal Halfway to YouPicture for a moment a scene from the wilds of Central Ontario, Canada. In the black of night, you wander through forests down to the rocky shore of a majestic lake. A warm, gentle summer breeze stirs the light mist emanating off of the cold waters. You look up and watch with awe as the Aurora Borealis make a rare summer appearance. The lights in the sky dance before your eyes, subtly changing colours as they mesmerize you. Your senses are filled with stimulation (through the smell of the forests, the breeze against your skin, and the signs in the sky), except for your hearing, as the scene plays out in total silence…

In an unpretentious way, Coastal’s latest CD, Halfway to You could very well be an appropriate soundtrack to this scene (experienced by this listener mere hours before hearing Halfway to You for the first time). Perhaps I’ve gone too far in interpreting this CD from such a purely subjective frame of reference, but for some reason, Coastal has always invoked in me such feelings of tranquility, integration, and serenity. With their sublime Self-Titled CD on Words on Music, their breathtaking Winter on Dreams by Degrees, their flirty and experimental This Ageless Night on SunSeaSky, and their self-released live CD-R, Coastal has likewise captured the imaginations of listeners on both sides of the Atlantic. And their latest full-length, also released on Words on Music, with its gentle and warm strains of Coastal’s brand of dreamy slowcore may just be their best offering yet.

“Until You Sleep” opens Halfway to You with the dual-harmonied vocals of Jason and Luisa Gough floating in a simple melody over bells, chiming guitars, bass, and lightly brushed percussion. In fact, taken as a whole, Halfway to You features the widest array of instruments ever heard on a Coastal release, as the band utilizes strings, bells, keyboards, samples, and other odd noises in addition to their customary reverbed guitars, subtle bass, and light percussion. What is intact from previous Coastal releases is the band’s ability to craft incredibly simple melodies that somehow lodge themselves in the listener’s mind and transcends their basic form. “Halfway to You” is a good example of this, as Jason Gough sings a simple melody that presents itself as timeless, catchy, yet deceptively profound when matched with the accompanying warm-sounding music. Indeed, on songs like “Until You Sleep”, “Halfway to You”, “We Won’t Last Another Year” and the remarkable “Eternal” (a grand experimentation in spoken word interludes mixed with beautiful faraway vocals), Coastal has shed their colder, more barren sound from previous releases to embrace a warmer, hazier sound, giving their already affecting music an added dimension.

That’s not to say that Coastal has abandoned the elements that they have honed from previous releases, though. “Drift” sounds like it could be a long-lost song from the Winter sessions, with its melancholy vocals, haunting effects, and lyrics of longing. The experimental samples of spoken words found on “Eternal”, “Halfway to You”, and the intriguing instrumental “London in February” harken back to the experimentation on This Ageless Night, only this time, Coastal makes more effective use of the buried samples, using them as almost another instrument. Halfway to You showcases a band that has successfully blended the elements from its past into one original and beautiful project. And on Halfway to You, Coastal adds additional elements to their music. The instrumental “Night Sky” is the perfect song to watch the Aurora Borealis by, and would fit in perfectly with Windy & Carl’s Antarctica, as the haunting drones and simple guitar melodies lull the listener into a contemplative mood. Finally, rounding out the CD is the 8 minute long “So Close”, which begins as another intimately warm-sounding song with the Gough’s singing a beautiful tune in unison. Once their vocals drift out, though, the song takes on a life of its own, as it fades into a gloriously hazy and wistful shoegaze outro. Lasting several minutes, the outro features strings, dreamy guitars, and what sounds like back-tracked samples, all intertwining into one splendid cacophony of noise. Somehow, through the whole song, the intimate feel is never lost. An amazing closing song that beautifully accentuates the inherent talent and beauty found in this band.

So, then, stated simply, this listener is again moved and affected by this band. Coastal boasts the kind of music that people hear in their dreams. And, packaged with equally exquisite-looking artwork, Halfway to You is simply one of those CD’s that music lovers will come back to again and again as they search out the soundtrack to their more pensive moments in life. A stunning work of art that transcends the simple beauty of their music…

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