Hungry Cloud Darkening
During the winter, some Minnesotans like to crank up the surf rock and live in some sick, twisted fantasy world in which they are from a state where going outside isn’t excruciating for two thirds of the year. Others—and I count myself in this camp—like to hunker down with some warm, ghostly slowcore and wallow in the darkness of spending twenty-three-and-a-half hours indoors every day. To all my fellow wallowers out there, Glossy Recall, the new record by Washington trio Hungry Cloud Darkening, is here for us.
Straight out of Anacortes, a small city in Northwestern Washington, Nicholas Wilbur, Allyson Foster, and Paul Benson cut their teeth backing up hometown hero Phil Elverum in his band Mount Eerie. Whereas the minimalism in the music of Mount Eerie often feels impenetrable and bleak, Hungry Cloud Darkening have an enveloping warmth to their sound. Maybe it’s the echoing, whispered vocals, maybe it’s the fact that the bass is the band’s primary melodic instrument, or maybe it’s because they recorded the album in an old church, but somehow Glossy Recall has one of the deepest sonic textures of any record I’ve heard in 2014. Like fellow trios Low and Yo La Tengo, there’s a perfect coexistence of fullness and emptiness at work here, a balance between simplicity and multiplicity.
Perhaps I’m being too vague. Let’s get into some specifics. “Clearly Seen” opens the album with a solemn march, bass and snare locked in a slow step. An ethereal synth and the breathy vocals of Nicholas Wilbur coat the skeletal background with rich layers of fragile sound. Slowly, the energy builds. Drummer Allyson Foster’s vocal harmonies drop in half way through the song, and they’re completely arresting. This is roughly the plot most of these songs follow: they begin with a perfect and simple backbone, and then the band piles on the heartbreakingly beautiful flourishes.
One of the greatest feats of Glossy Recall is how it’s able to balance the goals of texture and melody. For example, “You Look Around” starts on an organ/synth drone that could’ve come from a Tony Conrad piece, but out of the dirge slowly rises a simple piano melody. Like Julia Holter or Grouper’s Liz Harris, Allyson Foster’s voice manages to be icy, clear, and focused, while also maintaining a sense of aching emotion.
The majority of these songs clock in under four minutes, making sure the slow, repetitive melodies don’t wear out their welcome. But the album’s finale, “Inhibited Widow” (maybe my favorite song title of the year), stretches out into a six minute epic. A barebones rhythm shuffles along, staying as steady as the beat of a military drum corps. About half way through the track, after we’ve been lulled into the song’s hypnosis, a twinkling, almost melodramatic piano line breaks through, and Wilbur’s robotic vocals awaken into a croon with R&B bravado. Still, the rhythm is constant.
Hungry Cloud Darkening’s hospitable brand of minimalism is a really welcome bridge between ascetic sadcore nerds and those of us who don’t always enjoy using music as a tool for emotional self-flagellation. I really love Glossy Recall, and I can’t wait to see where this band goes next.