Some records hit the spot with their overall sonic space, rather than individual tracks. A production, a wash of instruments, that is distinctive and consistent, running throughout a collection of songs. ‘High Violet‘ was one such album to have this effect on me back in 2010. I pretty much lived in that album for much of that year and became attuned to its climate. Nothing else sounded quite like it and so I reached for it again and again and again. The love affair prompted by ‘Hummingbird’ hasn’t been as vigorous or all-consuming, but it’s not far off. The sense of tension, largely brought about by the skittering rhythms and pronounced percussive pulses of so many of the songs is really rather addictive.
‘Black Spot’ will delight those with a soft, ahem, spot for the soulful elegance of Jeff Buckley‘s ‘(Sketches for) My Sweetheart The Drunk’, with several moments of emotional release contained therein. Much was made at the time of the album’s release of the impact of having toured with both Arcade Fire and The National. The influence of the latter is perhaps more pronounced, presumably as a result of Aaron Dessner‘s role in the production. The frantic drum patterns will certainly seem familiar, but this is no exercise in pastiche. The piercingly heavy piano sounds throughout are especially striking, not least on ‘Three Months’, which is a true hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck manoeuvre. Lyrically, the album seems to intertwine the passing of vocalist Kelcey Ayer‘s mother and the departure of their bassist just prior to the writing of these songs. The ache is curiously luxurious and easier to wallow in than one might expect. Lines like “I’ve got to go on now, having thought this was your last year” capture a complexity of feeling that is at the forefront of all eleven tracks on ‘Hummingbird’.
The ever-present sensation that these songs could tip over the edge at any point ensures that the rich waves of harmony don’t grate, while the transparently raw grief results in a record with a furious sense of purpose. Things are brought to a close with the shimmering, twitching, glistening beauty of ‘Bowery’ which seems to find some sort of euphoric outpouring in its final minute before laying down to rest. For a record born of such hurt, it’s a hugely involving and often uplifting listen, which has remained near the top of the pile all year. Taken as background listening, I suspect its heft may be diminished. Dig out your headphones and put aside forty-five minutes, why don’t you?