With less than half the year gone, 2013 has already provided moments of truly wonderful and luxuriantly becalming music, most notably from Little Tybee and Cherokee Red. With their debut release, Hazel, Los Angeles quintet Young Hunting may have just eclipsed them both, and everything else released this year for that matter. Two years in the making and inspired by the dismay and despair of failures in and out of love, Hazel is exquisite, majestic, beautiful and about as many other superlatives as you can think of.
The band essentially locked themselves away for the two years of writing, recording and producing, emerging to play live less than a dozen times. That dedication to their craft, and it is a craft as each track has been meticulously and lovingly rendered and polished, has paid off in spades. Each of the nine tracks provides a masterclass in controlled and precise musicianship. Each moment, each element of sound is considered and essential to the listening experience. There are no extraneous flourishes; no flamboyances added just because they could, each detail augments the narrative of the lyrics and aural caresses of the musical arrangements.
For example in “Annabelle”, which might just be one of the most heartwrenchingly beautiful things we’ve ever heard, the attention to detail is astounding. The simplicity of its beginning, a guitar and vocals, swells as the tale develops. The drumbeat acts as harbinger of the woe to come, a slowed down take on the drums that would precede an execution, and the trumpets which join as denouement is reached are a mournful lament for the loss experienced. Hollywood should be seeking out principle songwriters Hari Rex and Ilya Mxx for in just six minutes they offer intricate and emotionally compelling storytelling that is rarely seen in 90 minute features these days, and it sounds divine; as does the rest of Hazel.
While “Annabelle” is a favourite of ours, a case could be made for practically every track to take the role of standout, they are each that strong. “White Lightyears” is ever so slightly more up-tempo and features the kind of dreamy, blues tinged vocals that Chris Issak charmed the world with all those years ago. “Maze” is a wonderfully compelling piece of honeydewed, summer folk-pop, all shimmery and swirly but, as with so much of Hazel, grounded in melancholy. Then there is “Wrecking Ball”, “Rust”, “Sweet Bird”… well, just the album. And it is an album, a whole piece rather than a collection of songs. It works as a singular entity as well as nine individual elements.
There is no urgency to Hazel, it is staid, serene like a lake with not a ripple on its surface but amongst the gorgeous and woozy instrumentals, there is darkness. It is dream-pop but laced with foreboding, a feeling that something is about to upset this idyllic scenario. This sense of unease is perhaps best represented by “Baby’s First Steps”, a track that sounds like a late drive along a 1950’s mountain road, loved one in the passenger seat after a pleasant evening with friends. The night is clear and the road is empty, but the audience knows all is not right. The bends are tight and blind, the driver’s eyes are heavy and the loved one’s seatbelt hangs unfastened by the door. It is only a matter of time. So it is dream-pop yes, but there are nightmares there too. Magical, beautiful nightmares.
Hazel is 41 minutes of laid back beauty, hazy melodies and regret filled harmonies blend perfectly and meander along together to stunning effect. It soothes and relaxes but also stirs feeling within and provokes a reaction. It is an album that you can get lost in time and time again and each listen reveals something new, another layer of emotion or element of sound hidden within. It is an album that you will keep coming back to and that, ironically given its inspiration, you are unlikely to ever fall out of love with.
Hazel is released on Gold Robot Records on 11 June and you can pre-order your copy here.