by tom johnson
Our very favourite records, the ones that feel like they’ve perhaps been there all along, like dates remembered, like unforgotten smells, have a way of telling us their own story while making it feeling distinctly entangled with our own. Taken at face value, Hello Shark’s “Delicate” LP is strikingly its own work, it tells its own stories, it talks of its own people and places. It references these attributes directly and often without context, and so we learn, or simply hear, of them in passing; about the “Michael” that hasn’t been seen in a while, about being drunk on a hotel roof. In direct conversations we’d expect much more, we’d want the gaps filled in, the importance and the dissonance explained and expanded upon. Things change when we really listen to a record though. When we commit ourselves to exploring it we’re searching for those moments when we can tie our own experiences to that voice within, those little puzzled moments that suddenly find the correct edge and make us feel like a part of something far greater than ourselves; a little reminder that we’re all a part of a herd, that we can be not so fearful about the choices we’ve made, the paths we took, wherever they might have led because, hey, here’s someone else who’s been there too and doesn’t it sound pretty.
And this isn’t to say that all of our favourite records and bands have this effect, there are certainly certain songwriters that deliberately put up walls and boundaries and force you to shift your focus away from self-importance and exploration, or even lead with deliberate ambiguity. In other arms, the aforementioned naturalism of Lincoln Halloran’s words, across the entire Hello Shark catalogue, could easily lend itself to such obscurity, but Halloran has such a defined knack for plain-stated songwriting that you can’t help but feel a part of these stories, even while trying to pin your own experiences to his weathered life map. Previous records ‘Break Arms’ and ‘HS’ were perhaps slightly more outreaching and prosaic, mentioning indistinct places and indirect ideas ahead of direct confrontations, but “Delicate”, released this weekend via Orindal Records, is supremely first-hand, a number of the songs presenting sentiments directed pointedly at one person rather than out in to the wider consciousness. This approach gives the whole record an overwhelmingly strict character, the songs akin to listening in on crushingly important conversations in the tale of one very specific relationship. We’re still able to take our own things from it though, because the little turns-of-phrase manage to land a far more universal blow, whether Halloran’s singing about “being home for Christmas Day”, or someone who smells like bonfires after rain, he does so in such a way that we can’t help but think of how these words fit in to our own life processes, or the thoughts/dreams/aspirations that sit half-buried somewhere deep inside.
Perhaps the best example of such sentimental leaning comes on the crushing “Wish We Talked Still”, when Halloran sings “…cigarettes at eight in the morning, I know how you get when you haven’t one yet.” We don’t respond to such a refrain because of our own life choices, or because we know someone who also fills their dusty lungs of a morning, it stirs whatever it stirs because it reminds us how it feels to know someone; to know their routine, to know the small afflictions in someone else’s character that lay hidden from the rest of the world, like scars under the cuffs of a sleeve.
Musically, “Delicate” is still very much on the same well-trodden path as the Hello Shark back-catalogue. Sounding still not dissimilar to the more organic side of his label boss Owen Ashworth, specifically his Casiotone For The Painfully Alone project, the record is sewn together on a bed of plaintive guitar strokes and grainy percussive runs, all of which are there to simply prop-up that cracked, morning-after vocal that hangs in the surrounding air like motes of dust in a stale, curtain-filtered morning, when the whole world feels at its smallest and most stifling. Also pertinent is the vocal (and bass) additions of Katie Bennett, who listeners might well, and certainly should, know from her Free Cake For Every Creature project, and whose voice hangs behind many of these songs like a shadow you can never see; the sound of a memory quietly following you around, every step of the way. Though it’s the oldest track, to us, in this collection, “Fishing For Bats” offers the best example of Bennett’s prowess, her soft lilt tracing Halloran’s far grainier lead like a sun halo around a silhouette, soft, out of focus, but framing the whole thing with something far more golden than expected.
While it might sound like something of a cliche, ‘Delicate’ really does work best when taken as one whole piece rather than a series of songs picked apart and highlighted. It might not run for very long but the effect is that of losing yourself in a movie, or perhaps a road trip that seems to blur the real world for a spread of time, where all you have is the changing landscape rushing by outside and the stagnating stillness within.
Halloran presents a strikingly personal viewpoint across the record but it never once gets tied down by sanctimony or even simple detachment from the subjects; in fact, perhaps, what this beautiful collection of songs most feels like is that thing that’s cropped up a couple of times across this review; of saturated mornings lost to over-indulgence when everything feels heavy, when thoughts flip between anxious recalls of past events and stoney-faced desires for the future, when seconds bleed in to minutes bleed in to hours before clarity slowly, somehow, returns. More decisively, ‘Delicate’ is a beautifully poignant and dignified display of songwriting; the kind of endearing craft that reminds you just how powerful it can be to hear one person’s experience channeled through a guitar and an occasional melody; unforeseen magic from the most undecorated of wands, but magic nonetheless.
‘Delicate’ is out now, via Orindal Records
You can buy it here
photograph by abi reymold