One of the ambient/post-rock field’s few “big name acts”, Hammock has helped to popularize the modern instrumental scene, as the duo’s music has been used to promote events ranging from the Winter Olympics to the Super Bowl. When an act becomes this popular, the pressure mounts. The duo has responded by upping the ante, adding “a string quartet, children’s choir, accordion, French horn, glockenspiel and more”. Reading these words, one wonders if the new album will even sound like Hammock; fortunately, it does.
The new richness in tone is apparent from the fullness of the very first track, on which the string quartet cuts through a euphoric fog, reflecting the title (“My Mind Was a Fog…My Heart Became a Bomb”). One realizes that the duo is not going to throw every new instrument in at once. This is not, for example, a “children’s choir album”; one will hear them only twice, on the exquisite “I Could Hear the Water at the Edge of All Things” and “Then the Quiet Explosion”. The video for the former joins “Mono No Aware” and “Breathturn” as a Hammock classic. The white-out photography at the end serves as a metaphor for the main character, the track title and the album as a whole. These are Oblivion Hymns, scoring the descent or ascent into the life or death that is to come. The string quartet is a fitting match for the subject matter, as is the children’s choir. Together they convey a mingled sense of innocence, transcendence, and longing.
The strings bear the weight of nearly every song, but they are up to the task. The songs unfurl gently and burst slowly, more like morning flowers than fireworks. Closing track “Tres Domine” brings a light surprise with the presence of gentle vocals and a triumphant trumpet that counteracts the lyrics: “My soul’s become undone, my soul it just won’t heal”. The music indicates that it has, or will; it’s an uplifting ending to a pensive, yearning album. Those who purchase Oblivion Hymns will also receive bonus tracks “Sleep” and “Cathedral”, which fit perfectly with the timbre and theme of the rest of the album. The final minute of “Sleep” is especially elegiac. But when making a playlist, we recommend keeping “Tres Domine” in the coda spot, as its elegance cannot be topped. Hammock has taken a firm step forward with this album; old fans will be pleased, while new ones may be mesmerized as well. (Richard Allen)