About a week ago, an email floated its way through my inbox. In it, contained all of the necessary press information for the debut album by Heyward Howkins, founding member of The Silver Ages, and a copy of the record itself. It was the very first promotional copy of anything I’ve ever gotten, and as such, it was mostly exciting. But then I realized something: it’s a rare thing for me to write about an album for which I have no expectations whatsoever. I, personally, haven’t listened to The Silver Ages, and my familiarity with the day job of the band’s drummer (Charlie Hall, of The War On Drugs) is mostly passing (I know, save your boos until the end). Usually, I’m at least aware of the sounds I’m going to be listening to, but this is a completely blind listening experience. All in all, it’s a nice way to enter into things.
What I was greeted with, upon putting on The Hale & Hearty, was something incredibly delicate. “Thunderin’ Stop,” despite its name, is a portrait of restraint and calm, a feeling that sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the record. A delicate thrum of an acoustic guitar mingles with the yawning violins and ooh-backup vocals. Howkins never once raises his voice to overcome the swirl around him, which is a somewhat refreshing sensation; in short, it allows his voice to become another instrument.
This is something you think you could say a lot of the time, but it really isn’t, for the most part. With the songs of The Hale & Hearty, it’s incredibly easy to forget that Howkins’ voice is actually the work of an actual person. The aforementioned restraint allows him to blend seamlessly with the arrangements that have been carefully constructed to cradle the somewhat broken-sounding Antony-esque voice of the band’s frontman. It could be, for a lot of bands, an insult, but don’t take it for one here. It leads to a lazy, dreamlike quality of the record as a whole, perfect for roaming summer days, and if you’re in the right company, one hell of a barbecue.
One of the worst things that can be said for the album is that, for its small splendor, it often times feels incomplete. Listening to a song like “The Raucous Call of Morning,” or “Sugar Sand Stitched Lip;” the album runs just over half an hour, meaning that you often feel like there’s a lot more that the band could do with the record, or at least with the space provided for them. It’s a slow-core atmosphere, but rather than the absences feeling deliberate, it sometimes feels like something was forgotten.
Despite this, The Hale & Hearty is a breath of fresh spring air for the entirety of its 33-minute run time. It feels something like a near perfect rough sketch of something great, even with a tiny hiccup or two along the way. I would say that it more than met my expectations, but that would be an understatement. To keep things simple: you’ll like this.