Winnipeg’s Living Hour return with their first collection of new material in three years and as you might expect their sound has evolved in the time since. Living Hour first made their mark with gorgeous slow burning dreampop like “Seagull” that reached towering heights. This time around Living Hour turns in a more pensive album that eschews the more overt shoegaze elements of their sound and relies more on brass instruments and empty spaces than reverb to build mood and atmosphere.
Beginning in basements south of Winnipeg, former choir singer Sam Sarty joined with guitarists Gil and Adam, bassist Brett and drummer Alex to write blissful love songs. The resulting sound combines interweaving guitar lines, brushed percussion, horns and keyboards that hang over the songs and hold together its delicate moods. Anchoring the band is Satry‘s vocals which are sometimes as ethereal as Slowdive and other times as smokey as a lounge singer. Where their 2016 debut was often uplifting and confident, Softer Faces is in many ways a more vulnerable and introspective album.
One of the most impressive tracks that show off this band’s development is album opener “Hallboy” which sounds like it could’ve been performed by a post-rock band if it wasn’t for the excellent vocals. Glittering guitar interplay builds and subsides gradually increasing in tempo before reaching a crescendo with trombones tastefully adding an unexpected touch. The album’s first single “Bottom Step” follows with delicately picked guitar lines and meditative harmonies. When the horn arrangements come in there’s a playful melody but it’s not enough to brighten Sarty‘s melancholy crooning. Some backwards guitar effects segues you into “I Sink I Sink“. Sarty‘s multi tracked vocals sing around each other as the band and accompanying horns slow dance to a waltz beat. It’s the shortest song on the album but it’s interesting arrangement makes it one of the most memorable and again emphasizes the many ways this band have taken the unconventional route and it made it sound natural for them on this record. Keeping with the aquatic theme, “Water” floats along on sparse gently picked guitars and sighing vocals. Like its predecessor, conventional song structure is turned on its head for a soothing and sometimes playful piece. Living Hour push the boundaries even further on “Before You Leave” incorporating odd time signatures, jazzy guitars and what can only be described as a math rock guitar solo at one point. Sarty‘s voice washes over the song and holds its intricate pieces together.
“No Past” is a sparse meditation before morphing into an eerie folk song. It’s followed by the much more optimistic “Slow Shines” with uplifting harmonies and a crescendo of beautiful cascading guitars over calming brass harmonies capping this album highlight. The following song “Inside” offers up this albums heaviest moments (if that can be said about Living Hour’s music) as well as some of its most tender and affecting. Guitars weave counterpointing melodies before becoming distorted and dissonant. Sarty’s vocals remain impressionistic as the album reaches its climax with the familiar horns and a soothing string sections. The final song “Melt” is an ambient piece that sounds like the previous eight songs melting into one.
Living Hour’s self titled album was a fine debut, but it largely played by the rules. Softer Faces pushes the boundaries of what can be done within the context of the dreampop genre and redefines who Living Hour are themselves – a band eager to experiment and challenge themselves while still believing in the healing power of music.
Highlights: Slow Shines, Hallboy, Inside
For Fans of: Warpaint, Lightfoils, Star Horse