Hammock have been one of my favourite ambient bands since 2006’s, Raising Your Voice...Trying to Stop an Echo. Through the melding of the synth based ambient approach and the post rock guitars and percussion they’ve been creating some of the most unique ambient music out there, and from 2013’s Oblivion Hymns, they’ve added strings, choral vocals and brass to give a further neoclassical flavour to their offerings, and their new album Mysterium, the eighth of their career, sees them continue in this direction, melding post-rock, ambient and classical to create beautiful, cinematic soundscapes.
Now and Not Yet shows their movement into more classical territory with choirs and strings providing most of the soundscapes here, both combining in the intro into a lovely wash of sound, the vocals fading away to be replaced by a soft layer of synths, with the strings rising to a crescendo, providing the main melody for the track against some plucked double bass. There’s no percussion, and little in the way of guitars that was typical in the early Hammock days, this is an assured and mature piece of classical ambient, soft, relaxed and strangely upbeat, and it sounds absolutely heavenly with the soft choirs.
That’s not to say that the core of Hammock’s early sound has been replaced by this neoclassical flavour, tracks like I Would Give My Breath Away and the beautifully titled Dust Swirling Into Your Shape have their trademark sound with the reverb laced guitar intertwining with the synths to give a calm, upbeat atmosphere, but with the extra dimension of available textures with strings and choirs giving them a wider sonic palette, it feels like they’ve managed to achieve the sounds they’ve been aiming at in their career since day one. The closing track is completely one for the fans of the early days, This Is Not Enough (Epilogue), having the guitar and synth based approach with the plodding percussion and dreamy vocals. The title track is the album’s crowning achievement, the subtle brass against the warm synths at the beginning creating such peaceful soundscapes, accentuated by the gliding cello and subtle textures of guitar, sowing that Hammock are not just putting together soft and lovely textures, but creating expertly scored pieces of cinematic, neoclassical music. It’s so rich in sounds and dynamics that the music on Mysterium shifts and surprises continually throughout the tracks and the album without doing so much that it breaks the spell they’ve carefully and meticulously woven. Another highlight is the post-rock of Elegy, echoing guitars slowly unraveling their song against bright sunny synths, soaring cello, celestial choirs and perfectly paced piano, each note delivered at just the right point for maximum impact. It’s warm, soft, sunny and perfect.
Hammock have always been in the top tier of ambient artists with their earlier post-rock leaning albums, but on Mysterium they’ve refined the neoclassical sound of the last few albums to perfection. Some fans may miss the more straightforward sound of the early releases, but one can’t deny that their songwriting and sonic palette has matured to the point where they’re at the top of their game. From the leading ambient leaning neoclassical artists, they’re right up there with A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Olafur Arnalds, but with much more of an upbeat vibe than those artists, Hammock are continuing to carve out a niche for themselves even eight albums in.