While his sixth studio album True Gutters Love was soaked in melodic character and pastoral utopia, Richard Hawley’s latest work has the lure of dark undertones. The former explored the concept of time and space with beguiling riffs and crisp acoustics. The organic texture of the elements and the crystal simplicity of country music were highlighted by his mandolin-like baritone in the album. Creating big sounds through effective quatrains, the artiste’s use of instruments like cristal baschet and mega bass water phone, brought several layers of resonance and warmth to his music.
With his latest album Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Hawley has managed to merge the mysterious narratives of psychedelic-indie rock with a dense musical palette. Unlike the string-laden balladry of the previous album, this one is slightly harsher. As sounds get pulverised and transcendental, one soon realises that the album has a rebellious pop landscape. Balancing the aggression of rock with droning riffs, Hawley has experimented with big sounds, intricate riffs and breakdowns. While most of the productions are densely textured and expansive, some songs are infused with blending beats and psychedelic atmosphere.
The opening track She Brings the Sunshine began with the peaceful drone of a tambura, a bluesy-distant guitar solo, sitar, and violin. Embellished with ragas, it gradually progressed with slow rhythms and consistent tones. However, as the song disarms with the dark-string introduction, the soulful melody was destroyed by thumping bass lines and a dissonant mesh of acoustic and electric sounds. And, Hawley’s squalling guitar breaks and ‘rocket sounds’ did nothing to enhance its flavour.
The title track Standing at the Sky’s Edge used a lot of psychedelic tropes and had an eastern-influenced percussion. With vocals dwarfed by echo and guitar solos drowned in distortion, the heart-wrenching ballad had simple bass lines and an acoustic resonator guitar surface. Hawley’s gorgeous baritone and poignant lyrics added the much needed colour to his sonic attack. Creating a sense of urgency with three biblical characters, this track’s close-cropped melodies and rhythmic tom-toms were both dramatic and intriguing.
Despite lush musical arrangements, Hawley gets raw and dirty with Down in the Woods. Layered with corrosive sounds, lilting hooks and frenetic drums, the track was drenched in washed sonics and passion. With this particular track, the artiste has dared to venture into concepts that no other singer would under normal circumstances. While the bittersweet tunes of Seek It defined the essence of powerful rhythms, the melancholy tunes of the track enhanced its melodic touchstones. This was a classic Hawley track that saw an opulent use of bright and dull guitars interlaced in his signature ‘earthy’ style.
Experimenting with space and texture, Don’t Stare at the Sun’s elegant use of tonal breaks resulted in a fragile musical flight. Portraying the desperate need for care and warmth, the song takes one on a sweeping melodic journey. While tracks like Time Will Bring You Winter and Leave Your Body behind You had sinister and abstract characteristics, The Wood Collier’s Grave -- an allegorical folk ballad -- highlights the grotesque nature of individual isolation and crisis. Underlined by swelling strings and folk impressions, the song shifts its focus from shadowy undertones to resilience in a jiffy.
The wide range of tunes paired with Richard Hawley’s stripped sound and contemporary experiments led to the discovery of some tightly wrought choruses and pumping melodies in Standing At The Sky’s Edge. The album concluded with an outpour of sentiments and desires. Combining crunchy beats and slick warm lines with sprawling solos, the artiste seemed to be expanding his sonic palette with this album.