Mike Angus - Hymns
Record Label: Shameless Records
Release Date: July 19th, 2011
"I stumble down the hallway, I don't know where you are So I sit here in the dark, alone with this guitar And I wonder what to do, another night waiting around for you "Cause I know you won't come over, I know that you won't call It's a waste of time to think you want to see me at all But I'll dream of you anyhow, and wake up reaching out for you"
- Be There (You Won't)
From the opening verse alone listeners are given a tantalizing glimpse into the topics covered, the candidly honest lyrics able to be digested, and the impenetrable feeling of loneliness that lingers behind every skeletal cry of Mike Angus' debut full-length, Hymns - an eight-track collection of songs inspired by open sparseness and foreign Italian surroundings. It's a body of work that represents growth, maturation and elements of experimentation with Angus often intrinsically motivating himself to write and create songs in ways that he never had the courage to do previously. Open tunings are utilized, and certain tracks only incorporate the use of merely a verse and short chorus before drawing to a gradual inaudible close. Likewise, the lyrics have been penned in a first-person view so as to encourage its listener into immersing themselves wholeheartedly into twenty-five minutes where every arrangement and composition acts as a raw compelling journal documenting truth, religion and regret.
The aforementioned "Be There (You Won't)" swirls with gentle distortion before acting as a haunting backdrop to Angus' minor key acoustic guitar notes. It isn't long before echoing vocals float into proceedings at the very forefront of the mix, yet the somber delivery only succeeds in placing more emphasis on the sorrowful atmosphere that's been conjured within the opening twenty seconds. "Oh Rodeo!" instantly impresses with its immediate introduction of clashing tambourines and swift piano chords. Intriguingly, although the mood is light and positive at the beginning of the track due to the upbeat nature of the instrumentation, it's swallowed almost immediately and in its place sits dense textures and heartbreaking vocals thereafter. There are occasions where that positivity looks set to sweep back into the song, but the infusion of regret and the ever present feeling of untold confessions about to be disclosed within every upcoming verse ensures that "Oh Rodeo!" remains dark and brooding, with flashes of mottled light at times speckling through.
"Broken English And French braid American cigarettes, Spanish ashtray, Italian sunshine Playing off her shoulder blade"
The poetically written "Italy" opens with the urgent barking from a neighborhood animal, yet it's perhaps the only sense of urgency that threatens to intervene in what is once again a beautiful, absorbing and moody three minute listening experience. Angus allows his vocals to waltz with traces of optimism and a flicker of romance, backed by nothing more than gentle acoustic guitar strumming and the occasional sweep of a string he sings with deep conviction, "The cobalt sea, the olive groves, men in boats are pulling nets" before continuing on in the following verse, this time in what appears to be an entirely different setting, "I got a cheap room with a view, a dusty road, vines and rose, a church bell woke me, I'd been dreaming of you". As Angus allows the last word to purposefully ring out, it's a reminder that loneliness is universal and that it's remarkable how effortlessly its been captured and recreated throughout the duration of "Italy". The biggest departure from the remainder of the record is the digitally driven "Scaffold Christ", a track that Angus challenged himself to write without any assistance from acoustic instruments. Rhythmic drumbeats, vocal overdubs and sampling techniques carry the track forward during the opening verse, but it isn't until the closure of the chorus does the urgency and energy begin to lift and propel the track to heights Hymns hasn't dared to reach until this point. However, from a critical standpoint, the lack of acoustic instrumentation results in the track feeling somewhat misplaced when put in context with the remainder of the record.
"Oh weeping mother, no one to see you through Your husband gave your son up to the grave For a God you thought you knew A Father, some ghosts, and you"
- Gsus Minor
The album highlight, "Gsus Minor" quickly elapses in less than two minutes and doesn't even feature a redeeming chorus, but instead it has three beautifully written and acoustically driven verses with the profound ability to resonate. There are religious undertones but it's never considered overbearing as is exemplified when Angus sings softly during the third and final verse, his voice unshaken yet wounded with permanent emotional scarring, "Oh lonely wife, his seed planted in your womb / you wrapped his body and you placed it in a tomb / you buried your man with tears". The two closing tracks, "Cold Cold Ground" and "What Does It Mean?" continue the same formula as the following six with the former even going as far as incorporating cinematic tendencies, trumpets, pianos and strings all entwining pleasantly. However, the closer "What Does It Mean?" is slightly disappointing in that it offers nothing new or remotely original. Normally it wouldn't be a direct critique, but when an album closer is the final chance an artist has at leaving a lasting impression; one would've thought that it would attempt to break boundaries and offer redeeming qualities to encourage listeners to retake the twenty-five minutes of emotional turmoil Hymns won't ever stop offering.
Hymns is both an expressive and impulsive release written by an artist challenging himself artistically, and even in some cases, discovering himself more fully as an individual. Each and every track follows a thread of storytelling within the tremendously penned lyrics, and those aforementioned songs are then able to draw a response, evoke feelings and emotions, and make listeners relive those Italian nights spent sleeping on wooden floorboards with only thoughts, memories and the haunting hymns of Mike Angus to accompany you.
Wow, that was a long review for an 8-track! However, I know it's your style and you left me a nice impression from the album... Also, rating is a little low for so many compliements you've made about it :)