Label: Shape Records Release date: 06/12/10 Link: Myspace As I put on H. Hawkline’s debut album for the first time, in bed, with the lights off and through my headphones, I only get about one minute through the first track and have to turn it off as it is too fucking freaky. This song, an amalgamation of distortion and an old woman singing high-pitched and croakily, followed by a frenzy of chiming bells and cackled wailing, is my first introduction to the Wales-based musician’s unique brand of psychedelic folk. The track, entitled ‘An Old Lady Sings/ Pentecostal’ should have warned me of its content, however despite my more favourable thoughts upon a second listening, old ladies singing in an eerily manner do not make for easy listening, especially when it’s dark. In the light of day, the song is stripped of its former menace and while its introduction certainly doesn’t create an amiable aural environment, I manage to make it through to the second part of the track, which, by comparison is wonderfully uplifting, and far from frightening. This distinct transition from one style to another is an element that comes to epitomise the rest of H. Hawkline’s music, as although there is prevalence for repetitive melodies within individual tracks, no two songs on the album sound the same. Even though he has performed with the likes of some of Wales’s finest musical offerings – Islet, Cate Le Bon and Sweet Baboo to name but a few – this is Huw Evans’s first venture as a solo artist, and under the moniker of H. Hawkline he makes acoustic-led music of the most wonderful assortment. From the distorted depths of A Cup Of Salt’s first track grows ‘Clown Catches Fly’ a song that, despite its Welsh roots, captures elements of Americana perfectly, with repetitive twanging guitars being gradually adding to with bells, glockenspiels and soft rustling in the background. This merges into ‘From Her Eyes’, which begins with what resembles a child attempting to play piano, placed over carefully constructed guitar melodies and long, rumbling bass notes. These, coupled with the deep notes of an organ, add tones of underlying menace to an otherwise uplifting tune and demonstrate how H. Hawkline manages to keep songs unpredictable despite the continuous melodies through the entirety of individual tracks. This knack is displayed further in fourth track ‘Carreg (Lleuad I)’ where the repetitive ditty of the guitar melody is counteracted by the gradual inclusion of various instruments – such as an organ, other guitars, soft piano keys and wailing vocals #– that retain the listener’s attention. As if to close in the opposite way to its eerie beginning, the last few minutes of A Cup Of Salt end with a female choir that sing in a soft and harmonious chorus, a stark contrast to the album’s earlier female counterpart. This fades into distorted snippets of background chatter and clatter. This is not the first time that off-mic moments, whether staged or real, are captured on the record. In fact they are quite integral to the album’s construction, and throughout A Cup Of Salt a plethora of noises can be heard, from knocking, footsteps on wooden floorboards, barking dogs, the aforementioned child-like piano notes, and the bird cries that close the entire album. Towards the end of ‘Raw Horse’ a new musical concept once again interrupts the existing guitar melody, and a short segment of the song that sounds as though it has been recorded in a different room takes over. Echoing and distant, with barely-audible vocals, the effect is one that makes the song seem as though it is being played in your own home, just few rooms away. This segues into the next song ‘Slow Geese’ which begins and ends abruptly with the sound of a cassette being changed. All this brings together the sense of an album that has been recorded organically, and based on the fact that the record is being released by the thoroughly DIY Shape Records, this is probably true. Although largely instrumental, there is subtle use of vocals used in a number of H. Hawkline’s songs, and despite these being mainly lyricless, when these sparse lyrics are used, it is in a repetitive and choral manner, such as the upbeat line “As sunshine shines from her eyes”. It is the subtleties and attention to detail of all the sounds in H. Hawkline’s songs, whether melodies, simple percussion or integrated background noise, that make A Cup Of Salt a special album, and one that – as its homely and familiar title suggests – manages to incorporate a slice of everyday life into an otherwise remarkable and unusual album. Photobucket