Dramanalog by Halfset (Review)

A very solid and engaging blend of acoustic and electronic sounds.
Dramanalog - Halfset

Halfset’s Dramanalog is the third release I’ve heard from Ireland’s Elusive Recordings — the other two being Jimmy Behan’s Days Are What We Live In and the Eklectra compilation — and the more I hear from this label, the more I’m liking it. If you do a quick perusal through the label’s small catalog, you’ll be tempted to lump them in the “electronica” category. However, I think that’s a bit of a misnomer.

Sure, their releases feature plenty of synths, loops, programming, and whatnot. However, so far their releases have shown a greater instrumental diversity than one might normally be inclined to expect from the “electronica” genre. In Halfset’s case, the duo of Stephen Shannon and Jeff Martin blend traditional, live instrumentation — guitar, banjo, mandolin, glockenspiel, etc. — with their electronic elements, making for a release that is lush, accessible, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Tracks like “Come On Citron!” and “The Abbatoir” play like a more uptempo Adem with their fluid, almost rustic guitar and banjo melodies, which are then backed up by solid grooves. This is especially true on “The Abbatoir,” which just glides along before getting a solid kick in the pants once the beats start up, making an already solid track all the more enjoyable. On the other hand, “Come On Citron!” slowly becomes something more grandiose as the billowy, cloud-like synths begin drifting through in the song’s latter moments, making it even more uplifting.

“I Can” is one of the more electronic-centered tracks on the album, it’s gentle, vibe-like pulses recalling Rainstick Orchestra’s stronger work. But even these are backed by banjo pluckings that strike up a vaguely Oriental timbre. “Tigare (French Tiger)” subtly blends acoustic guitars, gentle glitchwork, hazy drones, and trumpet into a lush electronic piece. The song never reveals its hand all at once, but the various instruments and elements reveal themselves slowly, making each passing minute feel like a new discovery or revelation.

At just over 6 minutes, “Signets” is the album’s longest track, and splits itself cleanly into two parts. The first half is perhaps the album’s most “techno” bit, with lush synth-strings drifting over a solid programmed beat. However, the second half takes on a much lower, slower air. Shimmering tones slowly emerge, half-asleep from murky atmospherics. The piece never quite coalesces, but just seems to hang there in mid-air, serving more like an extended denouement than anything else.

The album winds down with the humorously titled “Laptop Dancer,” which displays all of the band’s various elements the way a peacock shows off its feathers — proudly and in dazzling array. Jangly banjos sidle up next to ghostly voices (which, for some reason, remind me of The Third Eye Foundation but nowhere near as ghoulish), solid beats dance alongside digitized rhythms that sound like steel drums recorded through a 56K modem, and faux turntables cut it up with analog tape hiss. The song goes out on a high note, ending the album on a rather jubilant tone.

True, some might listen to Dramanalog and point out that it’s not the most groundbreaking stuff, or that sometimes the band’s formula stumbles a bit. And while that might be the case, overall the album remains a very solid and engaging blend of acoustic and electronic sounds, one that’s all the more enjoyable for how unassuming it is. There’s never a moment where I feel like Shannon and Martin are showing off or trying to impress me with how “groundbreaking” their music is. Which frees it up to be enjoyable, pleasant, and quite engaging from start to finish.