When Slowdive disbanded in 1995, forming member Neil Halstead said that he’d grown tired of creating sounds rather than songs. He then formed Mojave 3 out of Slowdive’s remains, eschewing dense shoegazing for acoustic picking, tight vocal melodies, and poetic lyricism— all traits of traditional British folk music. With Mojave 3 on hiatus, Halstead’s been writing songs in a similarly folky vein, compiling 11 of them for Palindrome Hunches, his third solo album.
Halstead’s music is smooth but not ignorable. His songwriting— in all of its previous iterations and especially on Palindrome Hunches— floats along: heady, airy, and unassuming. The exemplary opener, “Digging Shelters”, is odorless and endlessly consumable, like water. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but it doesn’t try to be. Most of this album follows suit; soft palettes are constructed for Halstead’s spacious voice and thinking-man words. The titular “Palindrome Hunches” weaves banjo plucking with a gentle, rhythmic piano as Halstead shifts from introspection to observation: “I never thought I could/ but now I know I should/ It’s funny/ Kansas City girl in an empty Irish bar/ I wonder.”
These songs are gracefully played and pleasant, but— like water— they can grow drab and unsatisfying when consumed en masse. Ostensibly, Halstead is aware of this because he always (even in his Slowdive days) injects some bitterness or some sugar to alleviate the tiresome effects of his LPs. The bitter: “Tied to You”— a scary violin soundtracks acerbic stanzas about a relationship that looks healthy on the outside, yet is decaying and becoming destructive on the inside. The sugar: “Hey Daydreamer”— Halstead yearns for a life less ordinary (“I wanna see everything/ I wanna go everywhere”) over a frolicking piano riff. There’s a balance to Palindrome Hunches that keeps it afloat for its 45-minute duration.
Let me punctuate this review by stepping back from the analysis and describing how this album affected me. While listening to Palindrome Hunches, my attention drifted in and out; I frequently wandered into my own thoughts as Halstead’s music provided a stimulating, atmospheric quality. Eventually, I’d tune back in, often to be impressed by a lyrical couplet or arrangement. I have a similar relationship with Slowdive’s recordings, which I love. If you also crave music to ponder by, Palindrome Hunches will do the job.
Essential Tracks: “Tied to You”, “Palindrome Hunches”