Back in 2019, Hammock (Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson) had just completed an astonishing trilogy that brought listeners through the depths of despair to the heights of hope. Then the pandemic struck, and the duo’s new-found peace was tested. Could they take what they had just learned and apply it to a new situation? Would the compositional style that applied to loss be just as effective when applied to this new “loss without closure?”
The answer is an unqualified yes. Hammock remains one of the world’s most authentic ambient acts, in that their timbres seem earned rather than adopted. They make peaceful music because they need peace; their blankets of ambience are like cloaks draped over friends and family. By extension, their listeners become part of this family, invited to share the same cloth.
The track titles tell the story of the past year: “Before,” “Heavy Laden,” “Dying Alone,” “What You Need Isn’t There.” Before offering comfort, Hammock offers empathy. The string line of “Heavy Laden” is particularly melancholic, the title a possible nod to an old hymn: are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? The author, Joseph Scriven, had lost two wives to illness and wrote the words to a mother he longed to visit across the sea.
Like Scriven, we may have borne unbearable losses. We may yearn to be Elsewhere. But as Wyatt Marshall writes in the liner notes, the duo encourages listeners to “live their lives” in whatever condition, battered or blessed, they may be. Hammock neither shies from the pain of the world nor offers a simple solution. They imply that the ways out may include forward, sideways, or through, but never backward or standing still. Hope is hard work.
The firm piano notes of “In the Empty Space You Used to Breathe” are the beginnings of a declarative statement. The orchestration grows fuller. The volume increases. The last year has included such loss, but not at the expense of beauty. As much as we wish to deny it ~ no, there has been nothing good in recent memory ~ we know that we are wrong. Our eyes may or may not have been open, our hearts empty or full. But the opportunities for wisdom, for perspective, for growth were never removed. Were we so caught up in what we had lost that we failed to notice what we still had, what we might gain, and what we might share so that others might gain?
The orchestral sounds surge again and again, making a memorable appearance in the title track. Will everything be alright again? Maybe, maybe not. Can everything be alright? Yes. To convey this message, the duo offers a new accessibility: twelve tracks in 43 minutes, only one longer than a radio single. The concise nature of these works invites new listeners to the fold. One may still get lost in the album, but not in the song.
Like other Hammock sets, this one adopts a trajectory, building gently to “Future Past,” which coincidentally is also the title of Duran Duran’s new album. The phrase refers to our thoughts of how the future might unfold, while underlining the fact that we just don’t know. The future may be as terrible as we fear, or more amazing than we can imagine. Given such divergent possibilities, how might we live? (Richard Allen)