Hammock: The Sleepover Series, Volume Two
There's a powerful backstory to Hammock's latest release that clarifies why it's the second volume in its Sleepover Series rather than a newly minted collection of ambient-electronic post-rock of the kind listeners have come to expect from the group. In a lengthy note accompanying the release, guitarist Marc Byrd, who partners with fellow guitarist Andrew Thompson in the instrumental outfit, describes his experiences in dealing with insomnia and depression, his related desire for inner peace and stillness, and the recent challenge of dealing with neck surgery and the painful recovery that followed. Two retreats to Big Sur—one before the surgery that jumpstarted the idea of the second volume in the Sleepover Series and the second after the surgery—crystallized in Byrd's mind how imperative it was that the recording process be resumed and the project's completion realized.
The result, ostensibly Hammock's follow-up to 2013's Oblivion Hymns, is a two-CD affair that features nine settings of varying duration on the first, sixty-eight-minute disc and a single, long-form opus called “The Lonely Now” on the second (the digital version of the release includes the ten-minute “Before We Were Born” as a bonus). Though there are contrasts between the settings on disc one, they're all of a piece in the way they consecutively nurture meditative spaces for the listener to immerse him/herself within. The music unfolds with an unhurried naturalness, its focus less on melody and more on texture and atmosphere. Though field recordings from Big Sur, California and Franklin, Tennessee have been worked into the material (faint bird chirps seep into the closing moments of “Original Light,” for example), Hammock's late-night lullabies are dominated by hazy, guitar-generated washes of overlapping design, with much of it moving in slow-motion. Generally speaking, the music exudes a sense of peace and calm as opposed to turbulence and anxiety. Things reach a state of especially graceful beauty during “Ausculta” and “From Silence into Silence,” though they're hardly the only times the music does so.
It's “The Lonely Now” that is the project's centerpiece, however, a thirty-minute ambient symphony that achieves a kind of hymnal grandeur and plays like the fulfillment of Byrd's wishes to transmute his experiences into sonic form (he himself states that it “expresses the true intent of the music”). His backstory for the release naturally lends it additional gravitas, even though the recording would still exert a strong impact in its absence. As long-time listeners are aware, Hammock's music always speaks powerfully, regardless of whether there's anything of a programmatic nature to go along with the material in question.