Slow Meadow – Slow Meadow (Hammock Music, 2015)

The first signing to Marc Bryd’s Hammock label is one that feels totally at home; featuring the man himself on both the opening and closing pieces here, Hammock’s influence is an apparent entity throughout the album, but at the same time it’s a very distinct and noticeably less guitar influenced record that seems to lean much closer to the Ambient rather than the Post-Rock side of things. Despite circling close to the dangerously derivative territory of so-dubbed Ambient Chamber Music, Slow Meadow’s Matt Kidd nevertheless crafts a beautiful and expressive release that tells us a touching story of the collapse of Summer and its incipient romances.

The early album pieces provide the groundwork in languid and fulfilled movements, easygoing and carefree collections of sound too caught up in these sensitive and precious moments to devote much time to thinking of anything else at this edge of Summer and imminent separation. Opener “Linen Garden Pt. 1” advances in waves of perception, each cresting piano stroke or guitar chord quickly smudged into the backfield synth drones as though committing each movement and action to memory, crystallising time. The loving couplet of “A Distant Glow” and the stunning “On A Bed of Green Blades” capture this idyllic scene in its effortlessly romantic glory, both lost in a continuation of drone tuffets and tinkling acoustic nothings. Trumpets find some resigned, mournful presence for the first time on “Green Blades” too, a surprisingly effective instrument in the record’s various farewells and more solemnly captured moments.

As the final day closes and the last night draws in, so does the trumpet reappear in “A Farewell Sonata”, parping distantly and with a sense of brooding outside of the ruminating acoustic drones that fill the piece, unable to sleep on the eve of separation. It welcomes the new day with a sad resignation, with “Crown of Amber Canopy” rising in glittering and refractive piano strokes and dense violins that are reluctant to let go, their thick articulations lost to toybox whimsy in the final moments, winding down into fading glumness that dominates the interior of the record. “Grey Cloud Lullaby” lives up to its namesake as it becomes drained of life and colour, its presentation flat and strained in its perfunctory stringed movements, giving rise to the dramatic frustrations and maddening reminders of “Blue Rose on a Windowsill” as it sees piano crashes fighting angst as we spot little reminders, impressions of a presence no longer with us. Again, it collapses into a accepting or resigned fugue at its conclusion, becoming increasingly emotionally drained as it proceeds.

Summer’s loving arms are bid adieu in the hauntingly rich “Summer Vigil” and its fragile drones and distant vocal coos, the trumpets once again coming out of their sad place to announce their farewell; they just add such an extra dimension to all the pieces they’re incorporated in, this darkling and morose aspect yet so dignified and refined. It’s still a hard pill to swallow and “Every Mournful Breath” makes this clear, its first minutes occupied by a chaotic tension, a claustrophobic haze of glitchy and fragmentary noises we find ourselves lost in before the lamentable swells of violin and synth drone reappears, oddly soothing and consoling but still haunted by absence.

The final pieces, “Grandeur of a Modest Moment” and the return of “Linen Garden Pt.2” see some sense of optimism and hope return, our five stages of grief coming to a close and beginning to look forwards again rather than within and back. Cinematic and emboldened, they begin to feel luxuriously sustained again and able to look back fondly without a depressive wist.

It’s such an actively storytelling record that it’s difficult not getting caught up in its expressive and emotional journey, to feel its trials and tribulations alongside and experience the almost sappy triumphs at its satisfying close. As with many records of its type I was a little sceptical at first and although it isn’t enormously far removed from other works it’s not really a concern here because of how investing and truly, impassionately emotional it feels. Every instrumental line, every drone wave, every trumpet line feels perfectly placed for maximum impact; in many ways its somewhat shorter runtime and more diverse instrument range makes this feel better than many of Hammock’s own records, or at the very least as equally well polished; brilliant stuff.