There’s something idealistic and almost romantic about the idea of two music industry veterans coming together to create music for the sake of creating art, rather than performing to fulfill some contractual obligation to fit into the mold of another artist whose money is fueling the music. Such was the situation that Andrew Thompson and Marc Byrd found themselves in, as they, through music, came together to combat the fatigue brought on by being hired hands in the music industry. The pair decided to release their elongated ambient recordings under the name Hammock, and what was originally intended as a labor of love became an international sensation in the independent/shoegaze/dreampop/post-rock world. Hammock’s releases last year, the full-length Kenotic, the EP Stranded Under Endless Sky, and the concept project The Sleepover Series Volume 1 wowed music listeners with their lush strands of delayed guitars playing haunting melodies. With the rapid development of such an insatiable fan base, the pressure of fulfilling the preconceived notions of fans who deeply identify with Hammock’s work must have been present as the duo began to work on their newest full-length. For the first time in their history as Hammock, Thompson and Byrd would be creating music with the vague intuition that this time, the music for sure would be heard.
Thankfully, the finished product of these more complicated recording sessions, the new full-length CD Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo is no less sincere compared to the band’s previous offerings. On 18 tracks clocking in at over 1 hour and 15 minutes, Hammock’s latest release is an ambitious study in dreamy, pristine, mostly instrumental offerings that conjure up images deep within the listener’s mind. With track titles like “When the Sky Pours Down Like a Fountain”, “Clouds Cover the Stars”, and “Chorus of Trees” (and with the music on these tracks somehow perfectly capturing the mystery of the titles), it’s plain to the listener that Hammock is interested in portraying the majesty and solitude of life. Ambitious stuff indeed, made all the more ambitious on Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo through the band’s more varied use of sounds and instruments throughout their music. The glorious strains of guitars are of course still the foundation of Hammock’s approach to recording, but this time, other instruments such as keyboards, piano, strings, acoustic guitars, subtle vocals (with three songs actually containing a more vocal-based song structure, complete with existential lyrics), and even a slight hint of electronic noodlings permeate through the layers of guitars. These added features of Hammock’s music gives it an even more expansive feel, as dense layers of sound swirl over the listener throughout Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo. Granted, the band still knows how to create more sullen, introspective, and minimalist tracks, such as the haunting “Clouds Cover the Stars”, or the equally quieting “God Send Us a Signal”. Often, though, the band tinkers with adding so many layers to the music that it overwhelms (in a good way) the listener, such as on the title track (one of the three tracks to feature relatively up-front vocals, a rarity in Hammock’s catalogue so far, as well as a wall of guitars and other sounds blended together beautifully). Whether the approach is a more free-form mellower offering, such as the opener “I Can Almost See You”, with its gorgeous female vocals supported by slightly hovering drones, or more structured and full songs such as “Floating Away in Every Direction”, with its drum parts and bass parts, cello underpinnings, and varied guitar parts, Hammock’s patience in engineering the perfect sound to craft that sense of awe that their music is known for is demonstrated with every moment that passed on Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo. Indeed, that patience to how the guitar parts sound, with their heavy processing, as well as the attention given to the other sounds throughout the CD, is a strength of Hammock, and often leads to dazzling effects on Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo.
Still, perhaps the band’s main strength in the past is in their ability to construct simple, yet poignant, melodies that resonate deeply with listeners, and despite the fact that the band has offered a mind-boggling 18 tracks only a year after their previous release, this strength is strikingly evident throughout Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo. The melody on “Disappear Like the Morning…”, for instance, is heartbreakingly shimmering and lingers on in the listener’s mind after the song is done. “Shipwrecked (Flat on Your Back)” is deceptively simple on first listen, but after the listener soaks in the song, in which Byrd sings “…We lay down under starlight…”, the melody pierces the conscience of the stilled listener.
A special mention also must be made about the artwork of Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo. The CD is packaged in the compellingly beautiful photography of Thomas Petillo, who visually captures the same sense of wonder that Hammock portrays musically. It is the sense of mystery, of profundity, of stillness, peace, the unknown, and the intimate that overwhelms Hammock listeners time and again. It’s hard to describe, but somehow, the band is able to pour their music into the very souls of the listeners, and animates the listener’s inward meditations, prayers, thoughts, and longings. After a relatively quick turnover between releases, the listener may have wondered if Hammock would again be capable of such affirming soul-work through their music, but on Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo, the duo’s ability to conjure up these feelings through their music is in great form.
Hammock is, then, successful in their ambitious attempt at creating songs that are completely memorable, not only due to their sonic excellence, but also in through their touching melodies. Restraint seems to be cast to the wind in terms of creativity and artistic freedom, despite the many legions of fans Hammock has acquired since emerging in early 2005. In a nutshell, Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo is what one would expect from a new Hammock release, only more grand in aspiration. Quite possibly the album of the year for dreampop/ambient/atmospheric music listeners, Raising Your Voice… Trying to Stop an Echo shows that Hammock are experts at revealing through their dreamy soundscapes the ambiguities and subtleties of human emotion. The idealistic vision of these two artists, coming together to create for the sake of creating beautiful art, lives on in this remarkable CD. Highly recommended.