Friday, 5 October 2012

Neil Halstead - Palindrome Hunches

Album review by KevW

Knowing what's happened since, (namely the formation of dreampop/alt-country/folk supergroup Mojave 3 and a brace of acclaimed solo albums as a singer-songwriter) it's difficult to believe that when Alan McGee was played the first version of what was to become Slowdive's 'Souvlaki' album twenty years ago, he dismissed it as "shit" and told the band to go away and write some tunes. They subsequently did, and with the aid of Brian Eno the album has become regarded as a classic in shoegaze circles, but it was pretty evident around that time that songwriting wasn't as natural and free flowing for Neil Halstead and co. as it is now. Stripped of the lush, shimmering noise that enveloped Slowdive's work, Halstead's unordained solo output is that of a man who doesn't seem to have any snags with writer's block, although 3 albums in a decade is hardly prolific, the calibre of the songs is a match for most.

The tunes on 'Palindrome Hunches' are backed with violin, double bass and piano, all of which are, for the most part, used sparingly. This record is largely one man and his guitar; words that would normally have any music fan worth their salt reaching for a shotgun (or at least some earplugs). This isn't the case here: with little to hide behind, the tracks on this album are spellbinding and incredibly fragile. While the chart-botherers continue to ruin the legacy of the acoustic, it's up to people like Neil Halstead to restore some dignity. Comparison time? Well, a couple of contemporary names that spring to mind are solo records by fellow former sonic adventurers Euros Childs and Richard James of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, both of whom have carved a similarly delicate path away from their previous oddball noodlings to become songsmiths of some might.

One name it's difficult to avoid mentioning here is Nick Drake, whose spectre can be found hiding in songs such as 'Tied To You' and 'Love Is A Beast'. Playful piano is never too far away either, adding a touch of variation to 'Bad Drugs & Minor Chords', 'Hey Daydreamer' and the title-track, the latter in particular is a perfect showcase for Halstead's hushed voice. 'Palindrome Hunches' works by way of reverse psychology: because it's such a subtle album and doesn't beg for your attention, the pull is even stronger and you find it actually demands your attention, the songs are too good to leave floating around in the background while your mind is elsewhere. It's an enchanting world to visit and one that gradually becomes more and more difficult to resist. Music like this isn't always the most immediate, but once you're drawn in by its charms you'll find you can't help but go back for more.

Free download: 'Tied To You'
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Neil Halstead's website

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