Hammock: Everything and Nothing
Hammock Music

Hammock's first full-length album since 2013's Oblivion Hymns brings with it a rather dramatic change in style from long-time partners Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson. In contrast to the instrumental post-rock and ambient focus of the Nashville duo's earlier releases, Everything and Nothing, Hammock's seventh full-length, sees the band, abetted by cellist Matt Slocum and vocalist Christine Byrd, focusing on concise song structures and a sound that has more in common with shoegaze than post-rock. Of course there are moments on the album that lean in ambient's direction, but for the most part the sound is punchy and the tone uplifting.

If there's an epic dimension present, it doesn't have to do with slow build-ups and climaxes; instead, the epic character of Everything and Nothing lies in its sixteen-track total and seventy-seven-minute running time. And with “Turn Away and Return” and the organ-gleaming “Before You Float Away into Nothing” functioning as frames, the recording begins to take on the character of an ambitious song-cycle unified by sonic vision. Thematically, the release is described as being “about enduring life's trials and tribulations, and letting hope and light be the beacons that guide you through it.” All that might well be so, but in all likelihood what the average listener will take away from the album above all else is the incredible force of Hammock's songwriting and its presentation. Never has the band sounded more triumphant than it does in the album's exuberant title track, a high-decibel anthem featuring the band crooning “We're satellites / Everything and nothing / We're so alive / Endless like the sky.”

“Turn Away and Return” eases the listener into the recording on ethereal waves of plangent guitars and angelic vocal harmonies, but Hammock immediately shifts away from such delicacy in “Clarity” for a triumphant, beat-powered attack laced with stabbing guitar patterns and six-string distortion. As the spacious sound rises in volume and density, the listener feels him/herself buoyed by the music's transcendent uplift. Whatever you wish to call it, it's instrumental rock at its finest.

Everything and Nothing doesn't always operate at a fever pitch. “Glassy Blue” and “Dissonance,” to cite two examples, capture the band in ballad mode with dreamy shoegaze exercises featuring vocals by the Byrds and Thompson, and as “We Could Have Been Beautiful Again,” “You Walk Around ... Shining Like the Sun,” “Unspoken,” and “Wasted We Stared at the Ceiling” show, there's no shortage of lilting entrancement on offer.

Comparisons have oft been made to Sigur Ros, and certainly there are times when it's warranted on the new release. The stirring, piano-laden “Marathon Boy” could be mistaken for a Sigur Ros instrumental, and the occasional appearance of an e-bow on Everything and Nothing also collapses the distance separating the bands. Slocum's presence also makes a huge difference to the album, his cello playing a wonderful enhancement to tracks such as “Reverence” and “I Will Become the Ground You Walk On.” So many of Hammock's albums are incredible, it's hard to imagine any one being dramatically better than another. That said, Everything and Nothing is so marvelously well-realized, it must be among the best in the band's catalogue.

May 2016