The Long Island post-rock trio Golden Hymns Sing ‘Hurrah’ dropped an album in the black hole of the release schedule, a week before Christmas, but we’re pulling an Interstellar to beam it back to our readers in the new year. The post-rock title, band name and length of tracks (four of the six over ten minutes long, the longest sixteen) caught our attention, as well as the number of instruments played: a dozen in all, including banjo, accordion, mandolin and viola. This trio went all-out during a time of quarantine, in which shows were cancelled and the band members were often unable to rehearse in person.
A few things about Long Island, for those who are unaware: the crocodile-shaped jutting edge of New York is a hundred miles long and only feels like an island when one is at the shore. There are no mountains and very few hills. Most of the island is tightly packed: suburbs of strip malls and Applebee’s, with 7-11s and Dunkin’ Donuts pretty much everywhere. While it doesn’t seem like a place that lends itself to post-rock imagery, the sunrises and sunsets are in fact spectacular, and serve as the inspiration for this new set.
The album’s first extended piece, “Nassau/Suffolk,” is also its longest. The title refers to the island’s two counties, the first adjacent to New York City and the second stretching out east to the infamous Hamptons. The track has a sense of ennui, of pent-up energy preparing to break through, which it does in snarls of guitar and drums over and over until it is spent. At around the halfway mark, the band members are stretched out on the floor, save for a tired drummer, waiting for the post-sunset coffee to kick in, which it eventually does through a sea of sludge.
Two of the tracks, “Illness in Times of …” and “Homesick for a Time That Never Was,” seem like pandemic twins, one addressing the body and the other the soul. In the early days, the disease hit New York the hardest; in January, transmission and hospitalization rates surged again, prompting fears of a second lockdown. In light of such news, the album communicates a wish to transcend hiraeth. Were we really that carefree before the pandemic? Did we enjoy our lives as much as we think we did, or did we squander the blessings around us by taking them for granted? The single-length “Illness” seems to ponder the equation, its measured tempo like a funeral procession; the closing “Homesick” begins in similarly somber fashion, then rises from its torpor with pounding determination. The finale is slow and sweet, with birds, banjo and bicycle bells. Whistling and military drums enter late, a final triumph.
But what of the sunrise and sunset? The album reverses the expected order, beginning with an overture of night that builds to a celebration of the rising sun. This is the order one might expect when building a foundation of hope. We won’t be locked down forever. The pandemic will pass. We will count our losses, honor our dead and eventually dance in the streets ~ across Long Island, on the beaches. Every sunrise and sunset reminds us that life is cyclical: a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. The album’s most emotive piece is graced by violin, building note by note, chord by chord, tipping slowly from passive to active, leading to a rousing finale during which the listener, like the players, may be tempted to sing ‘hurrah.’ (Richard Allen)