Echoes December CD of the Month: Hammock “Universalis”

Hammock's "Universalis" Echoes December CD of the Month,

by John Diliberto 12/3/2018Hammock

Hammock’s  Universalis  is an album that will take you deep into these dark wintry nights. In fact, it seems to emerge out of a snow-blanketed haze as it slowly sweeps into the panoramic strings of the opening track “Mouth to Dust. . . . Waiting” It’s a swirl of mystery, emerging like a distant radio signal as slow motion tremolo guitar shudder amidst slower motion strings. It’s the kind of epistle of mood we’ve come to expect from the Nashville duo of Andrew Thompson and Marc Byrd over the last 13 years since their debut album, Kenotic.

Universalis is the second of a three album series. Their last album, Mysterium, was inspired by the death of a young family member and the loss and existential contemplation that inspired. It was a beautiful, but dark and brooding recording, an electric requiem mass. Universalis  is the journey out of that pain and back to life.

Nowhere is that more evident than on the life affirming charge of “We Are More Than We Are,” one of the most aggressive and percussive Hammock songs in a few albums. It opens on a lonesome, plaintive guitar arpeggio before being joined by drums then bass and more guitars, a gathering of forces leading into the breach, a challenge to the powers amassed against hope.

Loss still remains on this album however with songs like “Tether of Yearning”. It emerges out of an environmental soundscape of chirping birds and wind, an unusual motif for this band. A keyboard cycle underlies a sustained guitar wail as the track begins a relentless build in one of those Pachelbel “Canon”-like modes that could go on forever, and you wish it would. Likewise, “We Watched You Disappear” seems like a heartbreaking song with swelling strings and a sparse piano figure, but looking at the video, it could also be a love song full of wistful memories.

Matt Kidd, aka Slow Meadow, appears on a few tracks, including the cinematic “Cliffside”, one of the more dynamic tracks on the album, that, like many compositions here, build from a simple, slow, almost folk-like guitar arpeggio into something grander and more driven. Similarly, “Thirst” may be their most dramatic song with insistent drums, chiming guitars, and sawtooth sustains, since their Chasing After Shadows. . . Living with Ghosts album in 2010.

Hammock has grown increasingly more classical over the years and their use of strings is increasingly mature and deeper. From the droning whole note sustains of the opening “Mouth to Dust. . . Waiting” to the closing portentous mood of the closing, “Tremendum” where reverb drenched and delay-laden guitar chords merge with the surging string undertow.

Universalis  is one of the more inviting Hammock albums in quite some time. It doesn’t immerse you in a soundscape of grief and loss, but instead rises with a quiet joy and redemption. Sit by a window on one of these wintry days. Put up Hammock’s Universalis, loud, and become enveloped in their epic journey. Now I can’t wait for the third volume of this series. This is Hammock’s 6th CD of the Month. See the previous reviews below.

Further reading/Listening
Hammock in Echoes Podcast
Hammock Cd of the Month Review of Raising Your Voice. . . Trying to stop an Echo  
Hammock CD of the Month Review of Everything and Nothing
Hammock CD or the Month Review of Oblivion Hymns
Hammock CD of the Month Review of Departure Songs
Hammock CD of the Month Review of Chasing After Shadows… Living With Ghosts