H. Hawkline - I Romanticize

by Steve Rhodes Rating:7 Release Date:2017-06-02

Though prevalent since 2010, H. Hawkline, the alter-ego of Cardiff-born Huw Evans, emerged as a key player in the revitalisation of Welsh music in 2015, along with Gwenno, 9Bach, Yucutan, Mowbird and others, with his third album In The Pink of Condition, an excellent and eccentric release that supplemented touches of other Welsh pastoral psychedelic champions Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Super Furry Animals and Islet, whilst veering into lounge territory. A laid-back release that could justifiably laud H. Hawkline as the Welsh Beck. Album number four, I Romanticize, continues down the outsider route, sharing DNA with such US luminaries such as Mac DeMarco, The Flaming Lips and Ween, while maintaining his own unique identity.

Opener 'Means That Much' showcases H's heavily Welsh-accented high-end vocals, set to a support of subtly programmed drums, a wobbly but kitsch bass, barely-pressed organs and summery, distant guitars. Much of the music exists in the background, with the Connan Mockasin guitars standing out, while H muses in a Jonathan Richman kind of carefree, idiosyncratic vibe “I don't need no nobody that means that much to me when I get all my kicks from sympathy and I don't need nobody that means that much to me, I'm running to police my apathy”.

'Engineers' builds on this, as choppy but thin guitars, a clicky and 'plopping' bass, echoed keys and a wandering, squelchy synth backing, with H's vocals floating over the top. “The wheels are greased, we're heading out out out, to the heart of the city where the nights are cold, out out out”. With the wry humour of Hefner applied throughout, the song maintains a calm standing, as the fractious instruments, including the faintest hint of brass, are all buried and playfully acting in the background.

Past and contemporary influences seem to regularly collide with this album, such as on 'Love Matters', where lo-fi keys, multi-vocals, wayward piano and delicate 80s synths hints of Orange Juice sacrificed in The Wicker Man. 'Impossible People' relies more on piano and organs, a structurally sound track with a twee edge and nice synth flourishes in the chorus. 'Television' invokes a reconstructed Prince with Sonic Youth (de)tunings and mad pianos, with nods to Talking Heads, especially in the barely-sung high-end vocals, or Metronomy on some of some very strong psychedelics. An atonal sounding but hypnotic track.

Where the album falls back is when it feels like it's trying too hard. The stripped-back 'Last Days In The Factory' has percussion more towards the centre with oddly-tuned guitars and mis-hit keys, but seems tiring with only the disparate brass at the end redeeming it and 'Salt Cleans' struggles to mine it's own identity, with the line “there's no room in the witness stand” repeated ad infinitum and the guitars feeling overwrought. At 6 minutes it is way too long.

Thankfully 'Cold Cuts' is a far more interesting proposition, with distortion on the vocals and bass, repeated shrilled organ riffs and haunting synths, adding a darker, more experimental perspective to the record.

'Last Thing On Your Mind closes proceedings and sums up the somewhat frustrating nature of parts of the album. Descending organs, keys, drum machine and fizzles of synth noises leads the track in a more danceable direction, but the cutesy bass remains and there's little in the way of hooks to anchor the song, which floats into nothingness despite the interesting lyrics. “But in the pocket of my tendency, no commons sense applies. Without the means to recompense your circling the eddy of my eyes”.

Certainly not a straight-forward listen, there's no 'thumping' songs, no faux 'uplifting' tracks, no indie-by-numbers efforts. What you have is a charming and endearing album, that though struggles to emulate some of more memorable tracks from his previous effort (such as 'Ringfinger' or 'Moddion'), rewards incrementally upwards with each listen. A neo-psychedelic treat.

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