HAL: The Time The Hour
Following the February release of their superb 'Down in the Valley EP', Dublin-based HAL return with their first full album since 2005’s self-titled debut. Seven years is a long time to wait between records, but in this case, the wait has been rewarded with a massively enjoyable album.
Opening track' Magnificent' sounds like Blondie played by the Scissor Sisters. It’s an upbeat, pounding number with a backing track complete with bells, pounding bass and a string section reminiscent of My Life Story.
The chirpy, quirky mood is continued through second track 'Be with You', a song veritably bursting with optimism and sunny energy. The chiming piano lead and throbbing rhythm section are enough to set even the most morose of toes tapping. The track is capped by an accomplished guitar solo and some fantastic vocal harmonies.
'Going to the City' sounds like a cross between Belle and Sebastian, BJ Thomas and Lee Hazlewood, while 'Down in the Valley' is a superbly heady blend of The Scissor Sisters and MGMT.
The piano and string opening of title track 'The Time The Hour' sounds like Supertramp’s 'The Logical Song'. The track opens up around the one minute mark, with a swell of strings and the addition of some truly impressive harmonies.
'The Time The Hour' is a rare mix of intimate and bombastic. Nowhere is this intimacy more evident than on 'Rocking Chairs', by far the most gentle piece on the album. That it sits so comfortably with the louder songs on the album is testament to the quality of the songwriting, production, sequencing and performance.
Harmonically HAL are simply superb, effortlessly interweaving CSNY-style slabs of pitch-perfect vocal textures. Musically the album is a treat, flitting between high camp and genuine tenderness with ease.
For me, the highlight of the album was the stunning 'Close to Her'. An exercise in harmonic perfection that would give Robin Pecknold or Sean O’Hagan a run for their money, it’s simply two minutes of bliss.
This is a very positive album, which, although drawn from many recognisable sources, offers something fresh and exciting to the listener. 'The Time The Hour' is a superbly written and executed piece of intelligent pop rock, hugely marketable and yet retaining the artistic integrity so often compromised in the pursuit of mainstream success.