Hal
Hal
Rough Trade
2005
B



ah, summer. I love it: the heat, the light, the life…While the dog days can turn many people rabid, I’m at my most tolerant June through September. The other morning, I was paging through British music magazine, Mojo, while enjoying a cup of tea when I read that Pink Floyd’s The Wall is slated to be adapted into a Broadway musical complete with big “laughs.” Perplexed and feeling a slight sting (partially from the hot tea I spilled on my foot), I looked up at the Today Show just in time to catch the return of the Backstreet Boys, prancing about and making heart-flutter gestures at me. This sequence, had it occurred in March, would have certainly have trashed my day, but the sun was out and birds were chirping… I just turned to my dog, calmly blasphemed, put Hal in the CD tray and jumped in the shower.

Hal is a decidedly summery album. The type of music perfect for buzzed lawn-chair afternoons (or unfortunate mornings). The type of album that orchestrates the world in romantic synchronicity: the clouds and trees and fizz and breeze and even the weeds come together; and as high-tenured Dave Allen puts it on the record’s opener, “What a Lovely Dance.”

Hailing from a very rainy Kiliney, Ireland, it seems Hal ended up sounding like the musical equivalent of George Hamilton’s skin tone through intense exposure to “Surf’s Up”-era Beach Boys records. There are other obvious influences at play as well: Van Morrison, Simon and Garfunkel, Mamas and Papas, The Band, and perhaps a bit o’ Neil Young, but it’s pretty clear Dave and his harmony singing, bass playing, brother, Paul, did most of their formative years worshiping at the spinning alter of the brothers Wilson.

Judging from their own promotional spew, it seems the band is simultaneously proud of their derivative sound and a tad defensive about it: “It’s [their sound] Van Morrison in his blue eyed soulful heyday, it’s Brian Wilson jumping out of the sandbox.” This is followed by, “Hal—they’re not of this world. Join them in theirs,” and “…touring with Doves, Delays, The Thrills, Starsailor and Grandaddy, none of whom sound like Hal. Then again, who does?” That’s a trick question, you see.

One needn’t look any further than the title of Hal’s second UK single for a mission statement: “Play the Hits.” Dave’s effeminately beautiful voice spins recycled solid gold into attractive coverings for Hal’s feet, which are firmly planted on the line between crookery and influence. With a slight hand up from some orchestration and modern production technique the quartet delivers with a convincing bravado that they apparently soaked up from sunny vinyl masterpieces. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, and this record could very well sound sickeningly syrupy come December, but Hal have found a way of reflecting the sun from a time when it wasn’t quite so poisonous. Mojito anyone?


Reviewed by: Mario Quadracci
Reviewed on: 2005-06-24
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