[sic] Magazine

Hammock – Oblivion Hymns

Hammock have been something of a marquee nugaze act for me ever since their 2005 album Kenotic . Nashville duo Andrew Thompson and Marc Byrd know a thing or two about making guitars sound absolutely, jaw-droppingly beautiful and have been doing so throughout. Opinions vary as to the ‘best’ Hammock record, testament to their strength in depth as well as their ability to subtly nuance each work. I happen to believe that subsequent long players have grown ever more cohesive and holistically satisfying. That is, up until now. This latest album Oblivion Hymns is recognisably ‘Hammock’ yet comes across as isolated from the back-catalogue. One could almost say detached.

A sombre mood pervades throughout the entirety of Oblivion Hymns running time. On first listen I found it crushingly disappointing. Since then this latest album has grown on me somewhat. Revised expectations, repeated listens plus a healthy side order of open-mindedness have allowed me ‘in’ to Oblivion Hymns . The music remains pretty, Hammock’s trade-mark melancholy can be found in abundance and they still know how to do ‘epic’. The clue in the title. This latest work is hymnal with all of the hushed reverence that the word implies. Their one mistake, maybe only mistake so far in a dazzling career, is that everything here is the same palette. Hammock have given up part of what has made them so special, so essential whilst somehow retaining their awe. Only this time around the awe is oddly joyless. Imagine for example, visiting Europe and stepping into one of the great Cathedrals. The music of Hammock would be a fitting match. Now imagine going from one Cathedral to another, ten times in a row, with nothing to break it up; that’s Oblivion Hymns . There is nothing wrong with stately grandeur, or brooding symphonic introspection but an hour of it loses impact.

Now a bit of balance. The album overall may not be a success but the music remains beautiful. If only these pieces popped up on other collections, they would be the perfect counterweights to some fizzing, joyous up-tempo Something like ‘Holding your absence’ has me reaching for the oft-used reviewing adjective, ‘cinematic’. It is lovely, arguably worth the price of the whole album by itself but it isn’t an isolated case, and that’s the whole point. Oblivion Hymns comes loaded to the hilt with stunning, unbelievable music. It’s just too much, too downtempo, too consistent. I’m waiting for the oblivion that never comes. Instead I get oblivious hymns, a failure of an album but a failure only on Hammocks terms. You must still buy it, augment your Hammock collection with yet more quality compositions. If you are anything like me though, you might find yourself yearning for last years magnum opus Departure Songs (see review of 2012) because Oblivion Hymns is missing that Hammock ‘thing’, that sparkle. ‘Turning into tiny particles…’ is probably the only piece here that could have been lifted from Departure Songs although those who have the two bonus tracks can enjoy Hammock closing their latest album with a nod to ‘Cold Front’, Departure Songs opening track. Whether poetic or ironic the final act of Hammocks new collection seems to be to reach out for its predecessor. Listeners may feel exactly the same way.