Saturday, December 22, 2012

My 2012: Neil Halstead - Palindrome Hunches

Genre: indie folk, singer-songwriter

One night while in the studio with Neil Halstead a friend questioned him as to what kind of music he played. Neil’s extremely thick beard turned into a smile as he said “Nylon Rock” before laughing and turning back to his beer.  I don’t think that description offered any clarity to the asker, but to me it seemed perfect: a self effacing term to help him deal with the fact that he, a former shoegazer, was making a solo record and his main weapon was simply a nylon string guitar and a couple of shakers...
... So if "Wittgenstein's Arm" draws its lyrical inspiration from the story of a wounded pianist from World War I (and therefore includes piano) and if the title track is indeed all about palindromes (you'll never think of Satan quite the same way), then everything still comes back to that point of origin. But as with his earlier bands, it's the choice of arrangements and performance that drives his solo work, a specific aiming for a sound. Halstead's performing reinvents no wheels but never is anything less than well-done regardless, and the full performances can often find their own impact, the violin of Ben Smith-- one of several performers from Band of Hope playing as the backing group throughout-- often providing a softly killer touch on songs like "Love Is a Beast", "Full Moon Rising", and especially in the nervous opening moments of "Tied to You".
By the time of the piano-led "Hey Daydreamer", one of the peppier songs in context, the album's been the type of thing that seems right for the closing in of the year through fall, something best heard in fading light, bundled a bit against the cooler air, a little shared warmth-- cozy sweater folk, indeed. Nope, it ain't shoegaze as it's been codified and re-codified. But why be disappointed in someone following his muse to a logical conclusion when that path was always the one he walked on?

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