On occasion I will come across a release that just feels right, somehow. When I see an album the artwork tells me what I expect to hear when I press play. If, when I press that button, my thoughts are confirmed the album already has an unfair advantage towards winning me over (not that I see each new musical offering as a challenge!). Degree of Arc’s début album Halls in Hospitals is one of those releases.
Granted I already thought I knew what to expect after enjoying their début EP Circles, but on seeing that artwork depicting light streaming through into a darkened hospital corridor I settled on the idea that this was going to be a much darker offering. I was not proven wrong.
If you enjoy the offerings of bands such as Explosions in the Sky then you should like this. Or are you bored of the same old tremolo picked loud\quiet\crescendo style post-rock bands? Are you going to need a reason to check Degree of Arc out? Go on then…
The atmosphere created by this album is phenomenal.
There you are. Now go and have a listen!
Oh, you want a bit more? Think about being in hospital; think what it means. They are not often places of joy, although those moments do happen. Most visits to a hospital are visits we would rather avoid; dark points of our lives. Underneath that darkness though there is usually a layer of optimism fighting to break through and that is what Halls in Hospitals is; a dark album simmering underneath music full of hope.
Samples are a big thing for me. They are so easy to just slap on top of the music without a thought, but musicians that take time to place suitable samples in the right place are saviours of this much overused technique. Great Distances starts with a sample, I guess from a space program at some time in history, and it works beautifully. It does not matter that it is barely legible; it just sets the scene over tremolo picked guitar. Tremolo is a big part of Degree of Arc’s sound. Then again you could argue that for a lot of post-rock bands, but they just seem to do it right; creating layers of atmosphere to build the music on top of. The crescendo of this track is utterly uplifting; far from original, but completely moving.
The Space Between was the teaser track for this album and is more of a passage of music than a full track itself. Reversed guitar echoes from empty, lost, notes that are laid once again over reverb heavy ambience and drums are thumped, not aggressively, but hopefully.
Forward brings that feeling of hopeless optimism. Cleaner tremolo picked melodies are driven by marching drums; going nowhere, but pushing onwards earnestly. Then Degree of Arc’s great sense of spacial awareness returns with sparse melodies that slowly build.
Dark, empty drones blend with ambience as Death of a Cosmonaut begins. Probably the darkest moments of this album, you are lost in the cold grip of deathly silence. This is the highlight of the album as it drives on and on relentlessly until it breaks into a peaceful place trapped in-between rumbling instruments and pounding drums.
Wake is another passage of music, much like The Space Between. This time the atmosphere is lighter with a heavy focus on ping pong delay. To say it is the weakest part of the album would be unfair as it sounds great, but I would not miss it if it was not there
The Marcher is a great example of some of my favourite compositional elements; one that finds its way to a motif and then builds over that from the rest of the song. It feels like there is lots of movement but at the same time it does not really go anywhere. Still it keeps your interest throughout and that is a skill I admire.
The album closes with A Day After It Started, more reverse guitar and droney notes and then another build into a massive crescendo. Before you can finish the album with a complete feeling of elation the tracks dying moments fade out with uncertainty. That lack of resolution leaves you wanting more. Press play again? Yes please.
Do not get me wrong; this release is cookie cutter post-rock. It is easy to listen to and the band knows exactly how to give you exactly what you expect as an avid listener of post rock. The reason you need to listen to this is because you want to be taken to places, you want to feel something, and you want to be exhausted once the final notes have played out. That is what Halls in Hospitals does to me. Experience it.