“We stamp out lines we’ve drawn,” Tim Czerniak sings on ‘Hug The Blood, the seventh tracks on Halves‘ second album Boa Howl. It seems like the most apt line to describe the Dublin band’s follow-up to It Goes, It Goes (Forever & Ever): throughout these 11 tracks, their sound is never anything less than challenging, never obvious but all the while thrilling and exciting. It’s a difficult trick to master, and there aren’t too many bands in Ireland who are forging such a singular path. Halves’ peers are otherworldy – the likes of the dreamer Sufjan Stevems and the artistes Sigur Ros.
Boa Howl was recorded over two weeks at Svenska Grammofon Studion in Gothenberg, Sweden, and produced by Halves themselves. The songs were recorded live on 2″ reel-to-reel tape and uses the Neve analog mixing console previously owned by Queen and used by the likes of Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin. In an interview here last week, guitarist Brian Cash said: “When we write we are more interested and inspired by production ideas more so than people’s songs. We listened to lots of old 50s and 60s stuff (doo wop, Joe Meek and Gordon Jenkins) and tried to write some old-fashioned tricks into the songs to see how they would sit with the electronic and electric aspects.” This ideal is exemplified by the likes of ‘Drip Pools’, ‘Best Summer’ and the aforementioned ‘Hug The Blood’. In the interview, Cash describes how they don’t like the listening experience offered by Spotify, a topic they return to in this feature with the Irish Times. With the various production techniques they dabble in throughout Boa Howl, this is an album supposed to be heard on a record player, with the listener completely focused.
And if that focus is maintained, the rewards Halves offer are limitless. Each song here sounds at once impenetrable yet vulnerable. The vocals are difficult to delve into, coated behind vast arrays of instrumentation. Snippets of lyrics are heard here and there, none more clearly than the album’s opening line: “Are you feeling blue?” Like Sigur Ros, who Cash admits they were overly in thrall to on It Goes, It Goes, but who he thinks they’ve managed to detach from now, Halves’ music can be euphoric, though it perhaps leaves you less warm and loved than Ágætis Byrjun and Takk. ‘The Glass Wreckage’ is a stunning track, marching band drumming melded to a wonderful guitar line. “It’s finally clear what we’ve become,” Brian says knowingly. Completed by Tim’s brother Elis, Halves have never sounded so fully formed.
The album highlight is the single ‘Tanager Peak’, featuring vocals from Gemma Hayes. A big name, she isn’t allowed dominate the track but alongside Cash, she adds an extra layer of emotion, the pair repeating the line “run in circles” until the idea of reaching the peak is forgotten about. The album flows naturally, like the stream that runs true on ‘Tanager Peak’. ‘Best Summer’ is perhaps the least summery track you could imagine, but its distant vocals add to the atmosphere that Halves want to create. ‘White Boa Howl’ is the shortest track here, the only one falling under the four-minute mark but also one of the most dense songs. ‘Bring Your Bad Luck’ returns to an apocalyptic feel that Halves constantly threaten and descend into on closer ‘Let Them Come’. Muse without the histrionics or stupidity, it’s the only way you feel that Boa Howl could close.
Halves have created a challenging album that feels instantaneous but may initially leave you cold. It’s dense, vast and euphoric, and will reward repeated listens. “We stamp out lines we’ve drawn,” they claim. These ones could be difficult to erase and surpass. A stunning effort.
Boa Howl is out now on Halves’ own label Hateistheenemy. You can order it in various formats here.
Halves tour dates:
July 6 – Tower Records, Dublin;
July 13 – Button Factory, Dublin with Overhead, The Albatross & Bantum;
July 19 – Billy Byrnes, Kilkenny with Bantum;
July 20 – The Model, Sligo with Bantum;
July 25 – Bourkes, Limerick with Bantum;
July 26 – Cyprus Avenue, Cork with Bantum;
August 3 – Indiependence;
August 4 – Castlepalooza;
August 7 – Voodoo, Belfast with Rachel Boyd & Affleck;
August 8 – Roisin Dubh, Galway with Bantum;
August 9 – The Water Rats, London with The Dying Seconds.