Wednesday, 19 February 2014

EP Review - Oh Hunter

Oh Hunter 
by Hayden Calnin (out now)

Last year I had the pleasure of watching Hayden Calnin support Asta at The Northcote Social Club in Melbourne. This week I have the pleasure of reviewing his brand new EP Oh Hunter  – which I would label as an alchemy of electro ambient folk.

The EP opens with the song ‘Coward’. This track starts with a beautiful subdued intro, with keys holding the ground firmly before Hayden’s smooth and emotive voice comes in providing just the right amount of contrasting texture. For me, Calnin’s voice is one of those that moved into my heart immediately with his soft-almost-whisper-singing in your ear and incredible range. With this recording, its apparent almost immediately that this music is best listened to through either a superior set of speakers or quality head phones. The mixing here is part of the art of this music. You don’t want to miss out on the delicacy of sound. ‘Coward’ - with its gorgeous layering of voice and a serendipitous dynamic shift of beats, grabbed me by the heart. The glockenspiel hits add the right amount of dream-like longing here. ‘Coward’ sets the tone of the EP; an almost wistful ride of drama contrasting with softness and sweet contemplation.

‘Comatose’ follows as the next track and gives Calnin a chance to really showcase his vocal ability. His ability to hold the emotion of an old and wizened soul without any pretention or unnecessary flair had me thinking of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver’s) pipes. But there is something altogether unique in Calnin’s voice that gives him a whole other stand out quality; it’s haunting and almost of another world, yet it’s still very accessible.

The pensive mood of the EP continues into the third track with ‘I Corrupt’. Falsetto vocals rise above a simple almost melancholic soundscape. Like gulls majestically rising over a grey ocean, it is again the voice of Calnin that reels me in with lush harmonies balancing out the sadness with beauty. Unassuming little synth sounds add another element that creates a full and interesting sound – perhaps a little like Bjork’s early pieces.

The beautiful brood is continued with ‘Not Good for Me’. This song was a stand out for me when I saw Calnin play it live last year. And again, listening to the EP I fell in love with these lyrics “There’s a girl next to me she feels like rain, crying her eyes out all the time, speak a little louder, I could help you out if you want, but you are not good for me”. The idea of being attracted to what we don’t need is an old but relevant story. The letting go of what is no longer serving you is a hard lesson to learn. This song delivers its message clearly and with much heart and conviction. ‘Not Good for Me’ is an intimate revelation yet remains refined and elegant in its delivery. Again, the mixing here is done so well with vocal harmonies (at times manipulated digitally), stripped back sections, gentle ebbs and flows and dreamy guitar. Be sure to turn this one up.

The last song of the EP is ‘Forever A Traveller’. It opens with simple guitar strums and gentle hums and holds its power with simple yet striking lyrics; “I’m forever travelling, a hunter for stars, I’m forever travelling, a hunter for stars….” This lament weaves its magic with a layer of harmonies and lyrics that repeat over and over. This song reminded me of the poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ with its use of repetition, themes of danger and its timeless ethereal feel. It was a beautiful way to end a beautiful EP.

I thoroughly enjoyed Oh Hunter. Although it’s an introspective and wistful journey I was not left feeling empty or sad. There is a sense of hope conveyed in this EP that makes me want to listen again and again and I highly recommend seeing Hayden Calnin live if you get the chance. His star is definitely rising. Be a hunter yourself and go snare the EP as soon as you can. 

Lou Endicott gives Oh Hunter five Nick Cave heads out of five...

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