Halcyon - Nightwalks (review)
Now that’s out of the way let’s never mention it again.
Except to say, that this virus is about to cause a massive influx of music. With everyone stuck at home people finally have no excuse to not complete that album or song that they “just had no time to do”. And I suspect that this album is one of those cases, because I’ve been waiting on it for so very long.
I met the members of Halcyon variously during their first year of University. Being a second year, I felt like one of the enlightened - a soon to be mentor to these children as if they were my own brood. But, like most things at that university things never happened as they’re meant to.
Cunts were better than me.
I would catch performances of each of the members at the student bar (R.I.P Coopers). Singer/bassist Manav Kher performed with a band called SPRTS (apparently pronounced spirits), whilst, guitarist Charlie Whiteside and drummer Luke George performed in a band more simply (if more confusingly) named Paint Store. As friendships grew in drunken nights - as they often do - the boys moved into a flat together next door to me. This is where I learnt they were forming a new band named Panic Room - now Halcyon. A name me and my friends take great delight in refusing to pronounce correctly (e.g Hallycon, Halifax and Halitosis).
However you choose to pronounce their name you can’t deny the level of talent that they have shown in this EP. Titled “Nightwalks” after the trips Manav and Charlie would take in first year after both suffering unfortunate break ups, this 6 track EP weaves emo with classic rock elements into a culmination and natural progression of young adult music. The EP is entirely self produced by the band - written and recorded between their shared living room and the University’s recording studio. The band would regularly knock on each others doors to discuss exciting new parts they had come up with and meet in their living room to talk through the EP’s lyrical concepts.
Fighting the pressures of what has been dubbed “toxic masculinity” they would heavily discuss with each other the state of their mental well being. I have noticed this trait becoming increasingly popular in emo bands these days - a move I suspect will benefit the genre overall. Emo has previously been described as misogynistic due to its heavy demonising of women with post-break up songs. It is nice to see a shift from “My life has gone to shit because of you” to a more post-break up introspective of life after love.
This Ep is all about perspective. As Manav puts it:
‘Writing lyrics in this band has always been about having a perspective that’s looking at your emotions like you’re a CCTV camera looking at a parked car. Which is why we can go from being dissociated in metaphor to grounding it in reality. It’s also what lets our voice be our own as opposed to to something that’s derived from other emo bands.”
This idea has even carried over to the artwork on the cover of each of their singles respectively; “Sink in the Eye of the Storm” “Free”, “Hail Mary” and “Fruity Juice”. Each cover being a photograph taken by Manav. (besides Free taken by their friend Pippa Turpin)
Sink in the Eye of the Storm
The first single and song to introduce the album, “Sink in the Eye of the Storm”, immediately lets you know this is going to be a very heavy guitar driven album. This song feels like it has a heavy blend of genres. No literally, a heavy blend from Grunge to Metal. This is not a lullaby. The breaks in the chorus almost leads you to expect the “Hey, Wait” of Nirvana’s Heart shaped box and it’s kinda itchy that it doesn’t (not a criticism, I just really love Nirvana).
They also seem to have soaked in the dynamics Nirvana is infamous for, going from soft to very loud between the verses and choruses. One thing to really enjoy in this that you don’t see enough of in young musicians is the use of falsetto. A little Billie Joe Armstrong inspired maybe? With lusciously reverbed backing vocals, this is an excellent introduction to the band’s style.
When the Fish Tear Down Their Houses (Where Will We Go)
The calm after the storm. If “Sink in the Eye of the Storm” tells you this is going to be a guitar driven album, this songs tells you there’s going to be a lot of what I like to call “musical masturbation” or “guitar wanking”. Charlie is a wonderful guitarist and on this song he lets you know that almost to the point it sounds like self pleasure. But hey, if the artist is having fun then you're having fun with them.
This song gives off massive Pink Floyd vibes with a hammond organ background, which seems to be reserved for bedroom pop nowadays. Personally, I can hear something of The Cure in it, in particular Bloodflowers’ “There is no If”. The soft arpeggios and fragile singing gives you the image of standing by an abandoned lighthouse on a cliff trying to decide whether to jump, whilst knowing you're not going to. It kind of makes you want to give Manav a little cuddle.
I had to admit that the title itself confused me and when I told my partner the name of the song after discussing the “Head above water” chorus line of “Sink” she commented that “It makes you wonder if he wrote this album in front of a fish tank”. I was sure the title of this song was a metaphor, but all I could think of was fish picking up pebbles with their mouths like in Finding Nemo. It just sounds like something someone would say while tripping. However, according to Charlie it is meant to represent “Some force of nature fucking with you at rock bottom”. A theme I’m sure we can all relate to. Like when so many bad things happen to you in a day it feels like the world is going out of its way to make you unhappy.
Having had Charlie mix my own EP a couple of years ago I’m starting to hear a sort of trademark sound in how he mixes the vocals. They don’t sound completely natural - I can’t quite tell if its the way he double tracks or an effect, but there’s a heavy chorus like effect. Which is excellent if you're a fan of John Lennon or Ozzy Osbourne.
Hands down my favourite song on the album.
As soon as it starts you're in to it. Once this band garners more of a following this song is going to be the encore that their fans are waiting to sing along too. The band knew it was a catchy hook and they don’t avoid it. Repetition is key to a successful pop song and this follows in the footsteps of classics such as, Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil”, Guns ’n’ Roses’ “Paradise City” and Free’s “All Right Now”. This song really shows off the pop sensibilities of the musicians (despite Luke’s Jazz disposition. We’re sorry to hear about your plight Luke and we hope you get well soon).
Of all the songs on the EP, this one really showcases Manav’s bass playing in a way that I can only liken to Flea from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Having previously been a rhythm based guitarist, bass wasn’t too big of a jump for him. But, as most bassists would delight in telling you, bass isn’t just as simple as just playing the root notes (because they don’t listen to The Ramones apparently). This song demonstrates that Manav has taken the time to commit and learn the bass as a real instrument (a dangerous move).
Interestingly, two of the best parts of the song - the bass line and key line - were meant for two separate songs that were never finished so the band spliced them together.
Unfortunately, this isn’t to say that this song is without its foibles. To their credit, the band have been the first to admit that they have made some of the songs on the album a bit too long. Song length hasn’t meant as much to the indie market since hits such as “Bat out of Hell” and “Stairway to Heaven”, but this track has a song within the song. After a solo that lasts twice as long as it probably should (and took 187 takes to get down according to Charlie. Sensing a theme here), there’s a whole new section posing as a bridge! It kind of reminds you of the coda section of “Layla”, except in Layla its at the end so you can just skip it if you don’t like it. Now imagine that they stuck that coda between the last verse and the chorus…Itchy isn’t it? You could just skip “Free” from here to be honest, but then you miss out on the last chorus which honestly comes as a bit of a relief. You get to go back to what you know and what you came to this song for. The bridge is clever and practically seamless don’t get me wrong, but could be shortened, to the benefit of the song. Or maybe its the length of the solo that hurts it, because at the end of the day you just want to get back to that chorus.
And while I’m here, There could have been something to thicken the sound pre-verse. It goes a little thin until the vocals come in to fill the negative space.
Also Manav’s Gerard Way inspired screams could have been a bit longer at the end of the chorus. They were good but they stop early like a gated reverb with low threshold.
Despite all this though I do honestly love the song and when I share this band with my friends this will be the song I show them. When there’s a radio edit.
An emo album wouldn’t be an emo album without parental issues. The band touched upon not feeling like a good enough son in “When the Fish Tear Down Their Houses (where will we go)” (half the word count of this review has been the bloody song titles! Maybe something else to shorten on the next EP boys?). However, “Hail Mary” goes far more in-depth. Maybe I’m missing a metaphor here, but music is about what you take away from it and here it feels like a real passing of the torch moment. Like you’ve been a disappointment all your life, but the future is coming on quicker every day.
This song is their “November Rain” with its nod to classic rock’s penchant to go from piano to guitars. Melancholy, but with a rising energy. I wasn’t surprised to learn this song would be one of their singles - it would be wasted as an album track. With a big chorus that you can see people singing with arms around each others necks, swaying, trying not to spill their pints - this is a song that needs to be sung in a big empty room, so you can hear the voice bouncing off the walls to remind you how alone you are as you become an adult.
Whilst most instruments on this EP were written by their respective musicians, this one was written by Manav on guitar that he took to Charlie to build on. Realising its potential Charlie wrote a piano piece and honestly I’d love to hear a pure piano version. I’m looking forward to this bands MTV unplugged.
Starting with a nice thick bass sound and short solo - this track sounds a bit like a Fall Out Boy song crossed with The Hoosiers. It has almost a carnival like feel to it. Like a mix between FOB’s “I Don’t Care” and My Chemical Romance’s “House of Wolves”. This song’s lyrics seem to slip into the old ways of emo and seem a tad accusatory, but if you’re into that classic 2010’s emo feel then this may be your track.
A nice little change of pace in this song is the 6/8 breakdown towards the end. According to Luke, this idea came from his complaint about most of the EP being in 4/4. As previously mentioned Luke comes from a Jazz background and had not had much rock drumming experience. In a recent interview it was joked by Charlie and Manav that he doesn’t enjoy playing this type of rock music (though he does correct them saying that he does love it…now). Luke’s suggestion to include this little change greatly benefits the song and gives it a more playful feel despite its negative emotional undertones.
The final song on the album, the last single to be released, but the first song written. Named after a line from the film Creep 2. This song feels the most cathartic of all the songs on the album. The lyrics were written by Charlie after his break up, you can find everything you have ever felt after a major heartbreak.
It rounds out the album nicely and gives you sense of completion. It feels sad that after you’ve just felt like you’ve got to know the boys and can open up and emphasise with them, it's over. Almost out of nowhere, but there are no loose ends. There’s no waiting around for them to come back, it’s done and you feel like it’s all going to be okay. Not great, but okay.
And at least if you get lonely you can play this song on your phone at 3.a.m in the morning. Probably healthier than a booty call.
Musically this song really reminds me of “Vampire Heart” by H.I.M with its pedal note verse melody and has some really luxurious chorus on the guitar in the pre-chorus that would make Cocteau Twins jealous. And for some reason this song gave me real Sugarbabes vibes, which I wasn’t expecting on this EP.
One thing I’ve enjoyed the most from this album is the vulnerability in Manav’s voice. In some places it seems to falter like he doesn’t believe in himself enough that he can hit the note he wants to - despite having for the most part a very original voice with a knack for melody. However, if anything I feel like this makes the music more enjoyable to listen to. It can be quite sickening to see some pretty boy ex-myspace celebrity sing about how tragic their life is despite having looks and a voice honed from mummy and daddy’s singing lesson money (not that your not a pretty boy manav. kisses mwah). But this is a voice of someone who doesn’t have the confidence he deserves like most people. Giving it a sincerity and depth that I think is missing in a lot of music right now.
This album feels like part of music’s evolution. How the band members have grown up listening to so many different styles and genres, they let naturally flow into their own songwriting. For all that the term genre means nowadays anyway. Whilst this album feels safe and doesn’t exactly break any boundaries when it comes to music, it manages to not stay confined at least. Each song is individual and whilst there are heavy elements of all of the bands they have listened to, Halcyon (Hulkyon) have managed to produce an album different enough from the next indie band to be worth listening to. I very much enjoyed their strong dynamics throughout and some quality vocal harmonies that are spot on.
This is an album that takes a look into the minds of young adult males. Where the teenage angst has just started to subside, but you're still left to try and figure out where you go from here. And whilst some of us may mourn the apparent death of sex and drugs in our rock ’n’ roll, this EP is a step towards helping the average young male to know things don’t always get better. But, at least they are not alone in not feeling good enough and that they can find comfort in their friends.
You can find this EP in all places you would usually listen to music. Halcyon’s next plans are to release their second EP later this year. Because that’s about all we can plan right now.
Stay safe and wash your hands. - By Coor Brow-Obles