Lovely debut from Dublin pop classicists
Twentysomething brothers Dave and Paul Allen, offspring of folk musician parents and raiders of their record collection, aren’t shy about revealing their love of Sixties/Seventies West Coast sounds. As vocal harmonisers and, respectively, guitarist and bassist of the quartet Hal, they’ve crafted a charming and disarming debut, which conveys their mastery of sun-baked manners but never merely copies. There’s a real joie de vivre to these songs, strong and seductive enough to be both original and timeless.
Having drawn an A&R scramble to Kiliney, south of Dublin, the band may find their blend of overt influences – Van Morrison, The Beach Boys, Spector – drawing initial comparisons to The Thrills of two years ago. But Hal live in their own, Teenage Fanclub-like, geography-irrelevant dreamworld. Dave, whose gorgeous voice is their gearstick, writes with keyboardist Stephen O’Brien in a manner which straddles both the mainstream melodies of a Beautiful South and the grittier edge of a chilled-out Neil Young. He’s said he wants the band to evoke indefinable nostalgia, a pining for a nebulous, half-recalled emotion. So whereas The Thrills’ second album fizzled commercially because of an increasingly arch knowingness which many found alienating, Hal – perfectionists eschewing irony – keep the envelope taut, the air fresh.
Edwyn Collins makes a great choice of producer for “Play The Hits”, a frisky, California surf flurry which has too much adrenalin for pastiche, while “What A Lovely Dance” is exquisitely romantic. Hal tend to opt for lyrics which suggest rather than spell out, but its coda is a deeply affecting paean to hope. The spare, sweet “Keep Love As Your Golden Rule” points to Young’s Harvest, and “Don’t Come Running” gently coaxes out shades of Badfinger. “I Sat Down” (favourite Hal song of touring partners The Magic Numbers) is as subtly shaped by The Band as the more obvious “Worry About The Wind”, and moulds mature chord patterns into a pyramid of yearning.
Embracing the torch-pop of The Everlys as much as the panoramas of the Wilsons, the brothers Allen melt any resistance with their aching take on purity and pre-modernism.
By Chris Roberts