hurricane bells tonight is the ghost
  • WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 06, 2010

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Full disclosure: I have not listened to any Longwave extensively enough to make comparisons. However, that said, I can detach singer/songwriter/guitarist Steve Schiltz from his prior work and take an isolated look at Hurricane Bells; his once-secret solo project. We had Schiltz in the Guest Apartment, and his zeal for documenting his exploits suggested a guy who just likes what he is doing, and wants to share it with everyone. When he inexplicably showed up on the New Moon OST, it got my attention; Hurricane Bells was the only name on the soundtrack I didn't recognize, among a collection of favorites (Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear and St. Vincent, BRMC, Thom Yorke, etc). I really enjoyed his contribution. Unfortunately for fans like me, the album is much more subdued and mellowed than the upbeat, electrified "Monsters."

But don't let that deter you; Tonight isn't a bad record, its just very different than my (and probably everyone else's) first impression. For example: "Darkness Is So Deep," populated with a generous amount of instrumentation, is still infinitely cleaner than the sound I was expecting. Even crisp electric guitar riffs over doubled drums have an acoustic quality. The instrumentations stays fairly static, throughout the record, jumping from acoustic guitar to as much as two guitars and percussive elements. Some might mistake this for "boring," especially when expecting a bit more of a haze. I was disappointed that the initial buildup of "This Year" didn't get to a pay-off, but maybe that isn't what Hurricane Bells is about. Tonight is the ghost, after all; a disappearing act, a haunting.

The songs generally embody a quiet, gentle,almost ghost-like aesthetic, even the upbeat ones. This results in a more passive listening experience: they all make great background music for walking in circles and contemplating life decisions. Schiltz plays with vocal effects often, sometimes opting for natural, and other times for a more filtered effect. I spent some time trying to figure out why he decided to do this, and came up mostly empty handed; the New York poet lyricism seems well suited to either vocal hats.

Hurricane Bells certainly chugs along charmingly enough on songs like "Crocodile" and "Freezing Rain," but the twangy edge makes them kind of bland, blending in with the rest of the wide world of singer/songwriter music. Schiltz really excells when he twists a few knobs and creates something deeper and darker. The payoff comes if you wait for it; final track "Tenderhooks" has a smack of the dirty sound heard on New Moon, and it takes the project to a higher intensity. Although Schiltz isn't actually singing on the track (finally becoming the ghost), I hear him floating above it, as if observing the swirls and electricity, contemplating where it will take him. I'm interested to see where he lands next. -joe puglisi

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MP3: Hurricane Bells - "This Year" (Tonight Is The Ghost)
Hurricane Bells on Myspace

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