Saturday, 22 December 2012

Album review: NEIL HALSTEAD - Palindrome Hunches

Highlights: Spin Bottle, Full Moon Rising, Hey Daydreamer

While I strongly believe that Neil Halstead wrote his best tunes for Mojave 3, it’s still nice to hear from him. You know what to expect, you know what not to expect: this really is like a tedious evening spent in good company. Cozy, understated but strangely engaging folk-pop songs that may quietly pass you by without leaving any particular impression (other than charm and loveliness, of course), but may suddenly come off gorgeously pretty and affecting on a fifth listen.

Obviously, those who know Halstead (from Slowdive, Mojave 3 or his previous solo releases) do of course realise the importance of being patient. They will wait for that all-important fifth/sixth/tenth listen. This time in particular. Palindrome Hunches is made in the same sweet, lethargic mould as 2008’s Oh! Mighty Engine, but this time the whole thing is even less immediate. Take the dreamy, Nick Drake styled (having said that, it’s all very Nick Drake-like) “Full Moon Rising”, which is not exactly the sort of song you would normally associate with a first single. But it was and it is actually as catchy as you will get here... Never mind: the song has a brilliant folk melody, beautiful minimalist, Pink Moon-like piano and some masterful violin to top it off. In the end, it’s all pop music. It’s just that it’s extremely underplayed. But with time everything reveals itself as perfectly meaty (well, almost) and well-written – just don’t try to grab these tunes by the collar. Wait till they grab you, or you’ll have to stay away from Neil Halstead altogether.

As ever, Palindrome Hunches is the irresistible, but unassuming sound of gorgeous melancholia from a very talented songwriter. You still sort of believe Neil can pen a killer three-minute pop song, but he just chooses not to. Well, I’m okay with that, and see this as a classic high 6/low 7 situation.


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