Review: HAL – The Time The Hour
Published on April 27th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
It’s only taken the Dubliners seven years to release the follow-up to their eponymous 2005 debut, which by the way was really rather splendid. Is it worth the wait? Well, do bears relieve themselves in areas of forestation the likes of which HAL may or may not have been hiding in all this time? This is a stunning comeback, is what we’re trying to say.
Sleek and strutting opener “Magnificent” does good by its title, gaining and ceding momentum through multiple sections before climaxing with an utterly gorgeous chorus refrain of what sounds through Dave Allen’s strangely compelling high-pitched delivery like “lonely lonely lost”. From funky electric piano to elegant strings, the instrumentation is as richly layered as the songwriting is sophisticated, and it’s executed with so much warm-hearted élan that it’s hard even at this early stage to foresee any great dip in quality from here on in.
Indeed, the joys keep on coming. “Be With You” is a sunny piano bounce that erupts into a huge, bitter-sweet, harmony-drenched chorus worthy of (and thoroughly recommended to fans of) Guillemots, even going on to pull of a key change so clever and so effective that it represents a significant step towards reclaiming the very idea from the bowels of idle AM radio. This is the kind of involving, constantly shifting pop music that the world needs more of; here’s hoping that the world is smart enough to take notice. (We won’t hold our breath.)
“Going to the City” flaunts a breezily pensive “Everybody’s Talkin'” kind of vibe, sounding at once totally fresh and like a classic from a bygone era, while “Down in the Valley” could be straight out of a ’50s rock and roll musical, slowing down and building up gradually again, chuffing and chugging like an old-fashioned steam train as the drums rumble away consummately underneath it all. In fact, the instrumentation across The Time The Hour is rarely if ever any less than stellar.
Proceedings then take a turn for the downcast with the soulful, stringswept, ELO-recalling title track and Harvest-era-Neil-Young-esque album centrepiece “Rocking Chair” (“I see your heart is breaking / It’s just a part of you / Another part is shaking / What have they done to you?” in particular exemplifying the shift in mood), and then “Why Do You Come Here” takes a pinch of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, a dash of of Montreal’s False Priest and turns it into something of a sinister soul mini-epic. Ace, ace and thrice ace.
All of which leaves the brief, Brian Wilson-y rumination of “Close to Her”, the barmy yet heartfelt, energetic yet sad “That’s That”, and finally the haunting, distressed “Hannah”, which really does have to be heard to be believed. It’s like The Beach Boys in mourning.
At just the ten tracks, here’s hoping that HAL have much more material lined up for a flurry of near-future activity to make up for their long absence. “Welcome back” doesn’t quite cut it in this instance; someone usher them into a recording studio and don’t let them out until they’ve recorded at least three more albums.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!
The Time The Hour is out now on Tri-Tone Records. Click here to buy it from iTunes and here to buy it from Amazon. For more information, including a list of live dates, please visit halmusic.com or the HAL Facebook page.