Artist: Hail Farm
Album: Perfect Human
Available for free/pay-what-you-want download at http://hailfarm.bandcamp.com/releases
Metallica is not the complete band. I thought they were. Right after hearing their S&M album – the one with the San Francisco Symphony (conducted by Michael Kamen, “yeah!”) – I thought they had it locked. The lead track was what I assumed was a Metallica deep cut I never bothered to listen to. “The Ecstasy of Gold” was, to my ear, another example of Metallica trading the “live fast, die young” ethos of old school metal for the delayed but deeply gratifying dynamism mined for commercial gold with 1991's Black Album. It would be interesting at best, tedious at worst, had they decided to instead drag an orchestra full of instruments more subtly evocative than crushingly brutal as Metallica just rode the lightening for two hours.
But “The Ecstasy of Gold” intro was not theirs. It was written three decades earlier by Ennio Morricone. You know, the Academy Award-winning Spaghetti Western guy whose scores somehow made gun-draws more dramatic? (Without him, who knows ... we might have realized idiots were dying for lack of wrist speed.) Mars Volta also used Morricone as entrance music, and I'm guessing WWE wrestlers are next.
But Morricone is influential for a reason – the same reason Kirk Hammett shouldn't be allowed to sloppily wah-wah all over him. Simply put, the guy can write a theme. And he exploits it with minimal (and unconventional-sounding) instruments to maximum effect. And so it is with Philadelphia's Hail Farm.
Fire up the lead track of Hail Farm's Perfect Human, and you'll hear why I just wasted all that hot air on Morricone via Metallica. With “Anniversary,” Michael O'Neill nails the spirit of Morricone. Over rolling drums (Asher Berlin), guitar set on reverb, O'Neill summons that same movie magic with layers of guitar textures, patterns and melodies.
The lyrics too are at their best when imagist and fantastical. On “Leaves,” you see, hear, and experience the peaceful serenity of: “my sisters they live in the stars / They come around once a year in the dark / Did you see me in the trees? / I was counting up all the leaves.” It's the same idyllic scene captured by Hum's “Stars.” But instead of Hum's “Creep”-like wall o' guitar (Radiohead not TLC), Hail Farm does more with less. Whether it's the doubled cello that I mistook for a classy-ass harmonica (at 1:20 of “Anniversary”), an upper-register bass fill (Bradford Dessy at 3:01 of “Anniversary”), or dramatic horns (1:52 of “All These Words” or 1:00 of “Not the Moon”), Hail Farm creates physical settings much like Porno for Pyros' “Porpoise Head” and Finley Quaye's “Supreme I Preme” did for me – soundscapes, all.
So too with “Skyscrapers,” which pointed towards a more appropriate micro-genre than Spaghetti Western. Because the title itself conjures “Skyscraper” by Julian Plenti aka Interpol's Paul Banks. Like Michael O'Neill for Hail Farm, Banks' own “Skyscraper” builds impressive structures with intricate guitar patterns as beams and melodic riffs as decorative columns.
And it is this skill-set O'Neill can use to dip into and out of musical styles at will. 'Cause he might need it. The stud cellist (Ben Austin) and trumpeter (Ian Cochran) of Hail Farm might soon be busy with a Morricone score for whatever Tarantino's got planned next.
*** The author of this review, Allen Murray, plays the tamborita for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8