Haunt the Upper Hallways by The Declining Winter (Review)
Although Hood might be on a hiatus that shows no signs of ending soon, the band’s members have been keeping busy. Gareth S. Brown has released two albums on Misplaced Music. Christopher Adams released We Know About The Need under the Bracken monicker in 2007 and has since contributed to various compilations, remix projects, and soundtracks. And Chris’ brother Richard has just released Haunt the Upper Hallways, the latest release from his lo-fi/experimental/post-rock outfit The Declining Winter.
I realize there are a lot of slashes in the above description, but that’s because Richard’s sound is rather mercurial. His brother Chris may focus on the more electronic/hip-hop aspects of Hood’s sound via Bracken but Richard is basically exploring everything else.
Think of the long, pastoral moments from The Cycle of Days and Seasons and Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys injected with post-classical fragments from Rachels and Steve Reich as well as some small amounts of dub and folk — and then all of it filtered through the sort of autumnal, melancholy, overcast haze that Hood and the rest of their Nostalgist ilk are so inclined towards and you’re getting close.
I don’t mean that listening to Haunt the Upper Hallways does nothing more than conjure up the desire to hear a new honest to God Hood album. Well okay… maybe it does at first.
I won’t pretend otherwise and not say that the title track is easily one of the best Hood-related songs in a good long while. The song is thrilling to listen to if only to hear the graceful and evocative manner in which Adams and his collaborators weave together the expected elements — churning feedback, shuffling percussion, acoustic guitars, strings, shimmering keys, and ever-so-breathy vocals — over the song’s nearly six minutes.
Countermelodies drift through “My Name in Ruins” and dulcimers and strings weave together in “Hey EFD” in ways that are extremely lovely; both make me yearn for autumn to arrive that much sooner. Meanwhile, “Come On Feel The Willingness” starts off simply enough with plucked guitar and a softly keening organ, and the layering of dulcimer, strings, and percussion is slow, steady, and altogether unsurprising — but that does nothing to diminish how easy it is to get swept along by the song’s shifting, swaying nature.
If you’re not already a convert to the Hood-related oeuvre, then there’s not really anything here that will convince you otherwise. I won’t deny that, if you’re feeling particularly snarky, you can easily write off the album as “more of the same.” But the thing about the pastoral sound that both The Declining Winter and Hood call home is that there’s a lot of territory to go off and amble through — provided you’re wearing a nice jacket to ward off the autumn chill. As a result, it may sound familiar but it never feels stale, uncomfortable, or unwelcome.
Rather, the experience of listening to Haunt the Upper Hallways is something that often gets overlooked, slighted, and downplayed in this day and age of always seeking the “new”: the experience of music that is comfortable in much the same way an old, tattered sweater or beaten up chair can be.
Even when the album is at its most abstract — “Where The Severn Rivers Tread” with its dueling ragged violins and iced over dulcimers, “Drenched“ ‘s the disembodied voices and rhythmic percussion, the ultra-skeletal twilit dub and forlorn trumpet drones of “Carta Remix” — it never feels standoffish or obtuse simply for the sake of being so. Even those moments still have a way of winding their way through the subconscious, lodging there, and stirring up hidden memories and emotions.
Which is why I probably get a thousand yard stare as soon as this comes over my headphones; I’m not bored, just lost and doing my best to not be found anytime soon.