In a world of dance beats, rapid fire sequences and songs devolving into little more than hooks, Hammock takes a deeper, darker more textured approach. They are the Mark Rothko of ambient music with sheets of sound shifting beneath each other like tectonic plates, but with the hint of melody and the feel of spirits rising toward the heavens. Oblivion Hymns lives up to its foreboding name in this extended tone poem to the end of life.
Hammock is operating in a classical dimension. The references to Arvo Pärt are obvious, but you might find their tone more heavily reflected in the “sacred minimalism” of the recently departed English composer, John Tavener. Inspired by the Russian Orthodox Church, Tavener’s music aspired to the heavens through the use of orchestras and choirs. Hammock’s Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson achieve the same effect with Dali-stretched guitars and whole-note string pads, moving slowly through a shrouded landscape.
Darkness is only a superficial impression of Oblivion Hymns . Within their circumscribed sound world, Hammock creates uplifting, moving themes that are more edge-of-the-world than end-of-the-world. Children’s choirs are deployed on a couple of tracks, notably on the gentle lament, “Then the Quiet Explosion” and “I Could Hear the Water at the Edge of All Things”
This is a follow-up to their 2012 opus, Departure Songs. That was a monumental album, but could become oppressive over the course of its two CD length. Maybe because of the children’s choir, Oblivion Hymns feels more hopeful, promising transcendence more than demise.
Hammock’s heavily processed guitar sound remains at the center of their music, but when an instrument like the piano turns up on “Holding Your Absence,” with spare, pensive chords it seems to wrap their ambient electric swirl around it, pulling all the elements together.
The cover of Oblivion Hymns is a Rorschach of ink blots by Amy Pleasant, and like the cover, you can read many things into Hammock’s music. You might find yourself descending into the abyss, or after hearing the concluding vocal hymn, “Tres Domines,” sung by Timothy Showalter, you might see heaven’s gate. But I keep finding myself rising up, floating through a celestial expanse, which might be the same thing.
With Oblivion Hymns Hammock’s Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson have created a magnificent and important work that will become a reference point for those working in ambient classical and post-rock modalities, and those looking for music that takes us beyond.
John Diliberto (((echoes)))