It’s been only 7 months since atmospheric music duo Hammock released the very popular and highly regarded Kenotic. A full-length masterpiece of drones, fluid guitar lines, field recordings and other sounds that took two years to craft, Kenotic has captured the mind and souls of music listeners. On this very site, I gushed about how Kenotic was able to penetrate the dark recesses of my soul, giving me comfort and a sense that I’m not alone in life. Kenotic is indeed heady soul-searching music, designed to give the listener an opportunity to slow down in life and reflect on the grand meta-narratives that unite us all. Given that such a collection of carefully woven musical threads took so long to complete, I was under the impression that it would be quite some time before music fans had a chance to hear more music from Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson. Yet, Hammock has done the impossible and found a way to release a gorgeous follow-up EP of completely new material entitled Stranded Under An Endless Sky. And, despite the fact that the EP so quickly follows its predecessor, Stranded Under An Endless Sky is a high quality collection of 4 moody songs that will affect the same kind of emotions (and even spiritual fervour!) that Kenotic effected.
The sounds of a field-recorded train, mixed in with what sounds like a gentle keyboard drone heralds the beginning of Stranded Under An Endless Sky and its title song. After a few seconds, a lingering lead guitar, shrouded in the haze of delay and a slight tinge of distortion, meanders its way to the front of the mix, setting the stage for a slow, pensive, and patiently crafted song. The guitar plays a simple (but distinctly Hammockian) guitar line, bending and waving like the barren wintry trees on the back cover of the EP. On this song alone, Hammock is able to achieve again what made Kenotic so great: guitar lines and effects that bring about a sense of otherworldliness…music that captures the very pulse of this reviewer, music that sounds like the soundtrack of my dreams and ruminations. “Stranded Under An Endless Sky” eventually expands and gently breaks free from its very loose structure, fading out with gently pulsating drones. “Birds Flying In Sequence”, the most fully fleshed out track on the EP, begins with a group of high pitched drones which naturally coordinate themselves to create a unified breeze of sound. Guitars, sounding like the calls of distant birds, gracefully weave through the clouds of ambience, spurred on by gently rumbling percussion. More and more guitars come into view, playing an intricate and elegant melodies and counter-melodies, while cradled by the ever-present guitar and keyboard drones. “Birds Flying In Sequence” incorporates ever-building percussion, along with a tasteful bassline, to gently drive the song forward to its fading conclusion. The song is stunningly beautiful, and captures the essence of its title majestically. The slightly darker “Always Wishing You Were Somewhere Else” (also the first song on the B-Side of the Vinyl release, put out by Republic of Texas Recordings), begins with a wistful guitar line supported by layers of keyboard and guitar sounds and minimal percussion. A cello, played by Sixpence None the Richer’s Matt Slocum, ambles its way through the song, and just when the song has added its parts to form a united whole that seems to take off, the song drifts off and ends. Hammock has shown on its early recordings that they like to keep the listener in a state of tension, not always finishing their songs to their logical conclusions or allowing their music to tie up over an extended period of time. This fact, coupled with the group’s remarkable ability to craft short but memorable phrases of music, creates a final product that the listener can’t help but hear echo in their souls long after the CD player is turned off. Of course, to say that Hammock does not usually play long pieces of music is not entirely true, as the gentle “An Empty Field” shows. Spanning over 9 ½ minutes, “An Empty Field” uses gorgeously affected guitars to create a mood of desolation, solitude, with a hint of warmth. The song builds ever so patiently, adding subtle elements over the course of the song, while never jarring the mood of isolation. During the last few minutes of the song, a lead guitar line plays a hopeful melody over the drones, while the cello makes a return appearance, and both combine to give the song a pastoral feel (appropriate, given the song’s title and Hammock’s self- admitted southern roots). Yet, even these obvious alterations to the song do not hinder the song’s ability to lull the listener to a mood of introspection and contemplation. The EP ends with “An Empty Field” gently subsiding to silence, as the layers of noise fade out in turn.
Stranded Under An Endless Sky is an excellently crafted follow-up to Kenotic, and firmly establishes Hammock as one of the premiere bands in the ambient/soundscape/dreampop subgenre. In the process of releasing great music that is aesthetically beautiful, Hammock also is able to tune into a facet of the listening experience that is so rare in music; the band is able to communicate, through its washes of sound, to the very core of the listener, should the listener be patient enough to allow the music to infiltrate the soul. The wise listener will do just that, and will allow the tender music of Stranded Under An Endless Sky to become the soundtrack to their lazy, hazy summer daydreams. Highly recommended!