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White Noise: Feature: Halls

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Feature: Halls

I first heard about the music of Halls (aka Samuel Howard from South London) when I found his remix of Gold Panda's excellent Marriage on the Marriage EP, but it still took me a while to check out his solo project. When I did, I was surprised not only by the quality of the material he's released so far, but also by the total lack of critical attention paid to his music which to my ears is more than deserving.


Although this remix doesn't jump out as immediately different as Star Slinger's full throttle dance mix or Forest Swords' total acoustic redraw, this is a subtle and detailed production that is well worth listening to. It keeps the sampled melody from Gold Panda's track but reworks the rushing momentum of the original in lighter synthlines, creating an ambient feel which calms without ever becoming the tiniest bit boring. The skittering beats increase slightly in speed giving the track pace towards the end, and ghosted French vocal samples are mixed well to produce a blissfully relaxed remix that seems to have so far gone ignored.

So from the basis of this track, I'm going to review the material that Howard has produced so far, and what I can find is an EP and a single released this year.

Halls EP

Chakra Drums 


There are more and more artists working with beats and ambient washes such as the Low End Theory group who I know I bang on endlessly about, but Halls easily carves a niche out for himself with his first EP. This record effortlessly showcases the core motifs of his sound. We hear time and again detailed and nuanced production which never gives up its sense of curious delicacy. Calming ambient textures and mixed with the low-key insistence of the percussion which is generally faultlessly implemented. The compositions are always subtle and lushly textured so they never become boring, perhaps placing Halls' work somewhere between Shlohmo's relaxed beats and Forest Swords' acoustic mystique.

Warsaw Radio Mast is a perfect beatless introduction to the EP, with ambient tones that wash across an ethereal Polish vocal sample that becomes lost in the mix, forming a slight piece in its own right but a perfect mood-setter for the tracks to come. This is followed by Shiner in which drumsticks snap in perfect time, reverbing over a slow, vaguely oriental synth melody and unobtrusive kick that paces the piece nicely. It's wonderfully melodic while remaining relaxed and restrained.

Cave Days is where the EP really gets going, with a clipped sample acting as a background like a breath that is continuously reset before being allowed to complete. The percussive snaps and smooth clicks sound here like Burial minus the urgent paranoia, and lay a path for a subdued but assured synth melody that courts a ghostly vocal sample which murmurs behind thick layers of haze. The middle of the song gives way to a restrained crash and a melancholy synthline which only empasises the longing of the core composition when it returns. This feeds into standout track Chakra Drums in which the customary clicks are textured with more digitalised percussion that feeds fluently into the relaxed sadness of the sound. The melody is gorgeous in its restraint and emotive power, and just like the ambient wash of Cave Days it is never allowed to fully emerge from the mix, showing an arist who understands the power of subduing his own sound for a quieter but more sophisticated emotional effect. This evolves into dolphin-ghost samples and a nuanced wind melody, and once more the beats build in power towards the close before being silenced like a snuffed candle. For me this track shows Halls at his best, a deeply atmospheric cut that explores more of the possibilities of his sound.

Kaleidoscope is a little samey having just heard the previous two tracks, but it retains the sense of calm that the beats imbue with ambient textures. A detailed synth line recurs just before the curtains briefly part to reveal the lost murmuring of children's voices, playground chatter deep into the mix which is more than a little unnerving. The EP closes, as it opened, with an ambient track, Rise. Here a deep ambient wash slowly builds in force before bringing in a synth with a harsher edge towards the close. It is a grand and fitting end to the record but here Howard is engaging with other, bigger artists doing similar ambient production and so the final track does sound a little rough and spare in comparison to Stars of the Lid or Biosphere.

I'm not writing about Halls because this is the best debut EP I've ever heard, because his music could use a little range and a more detailed soundscape, but for a new artist this is a remarkably accomplished piece of work. He unfailingly combines electronic and acoustic sound to great effect resulting in a restrained, delicate and moving piece from an artist who shows an enormous amount of promise if he can keep refining and improving his sound while opening his music up to greater possibilities.



On this short single release, Howard consolidates the merits of the sound of the Halls EP with a single and two B-sides. I'm not going to do a long form review for a single, but I can easily give a rundown of the tracks.

Title track Solace is the stunner here, and while not being radically different from any track on the EP it stands up clearly in its own right. An ambient wash opens the track to another crisply textured set of beats and a lovely bass hum, soon to be accompanied by those haunting vocals once more. The beats and vocals between Halls' tracks aren't massively easy to distinguish between, but the guy certainly has a way with a synth melody and this track proves this more than anything, with a fine-tuned synthline cutting through the misty sound to tremendous effect. There's a little more detail here than in the tracks previously released, such as the great looped outro or the interrupted bass.

First B-side Colossus has a faster beat that skitters and is routinely pierced by a harsher clap, creating more tension between the percussion and the vocals which here sound even more full of longing and melancholy than in previous tracks. Once more the contrast between the ambient tones and the sharp beats conjures a winner. Brave New World is an ambient finish similar to Rise on Halls EP, but I'd say this is a more accomplished track, partly because it doesn't overstay its welcome quite as much but also, although Rise did have some texture to its tones, here they are far more evident and although the individual droning notes will require patience as with any ambient or drone music, there is a lot of detail in the mix on a good set of speakers or headphones, particularly the almost-not-there vocals extruding from time to time.

Solace isn't a huge step for Halls, but it shows that his first EP was no one-trick record and that he has the ability to hone his sound between releases, which is a great sign of things to come. Each of these is a good track without needing to reference any past material too heavily, so get listening.

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At 23 November 2011 at 19:49 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, but you have to know that this isn't a Russian sample, but Polish. And adds a lot to the atmosphere, because the men talk about 'Warsaw Radio Mast' - to the 1991 year the biggest building in the world. It fell down on 1991 and men talk about technical issues and how it procured the death of 6 workers.

At 23 November 2011 at 23:04 , Blogger Tom Faber said...

Ah, that's really interesting. I've amended the post. Thanks


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