Halls Fragile EP Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Young London producer delivers a mesmerising and immersive extended-player.

Mike Diver 2012

Delivering precisely what it says on the sleeve, the second extended-play set from young London producer Samuel Howard is four tracks of exquisite delicacy, the kind of electro-organic sketches that the slightest bass drop would smash into digital splinters. The label Howard calls home for this newest collection, The Sounds of Sweet Nothing, have rather gnarlier gems in their catalogue, like offerings from Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Gross Magic. But no set of ears, however tinnitus-tainted, would ever mistake Halls for an artist operating at the riotous end of contemporary indie’s buzz spectrum.

Opener Sanctuary threatens to fly further still from the fountain of today’s on-trend talents, beginning with the sort of synthesised strings synonymous with the neo-classical composers of the Erased Tapes label. It’s an enveloping instrumental, its power derived from emotional weight rather than instrumental tumult; with the right moving pictures atop it, it would be a tear-jerker to rival any.

Lifeblood’s stark piano notes provide immediate contrast, likewise Howard’s plaintive vocals – half-mumbled at the microphone, like a teenager confessing his minor crimes to a parent, head down and eyes focused on the tips of his Chuck Taylors. His is an endearing shyness, bound by introspective electronica that suggests Stumbledine and Vondelpark as relatively close cousins. These artists share a common vision: less sepia-hued half-memories, more a blurred future where Real World Problems threaten to sharpen into distracting focus.

For now, though, Halls/Howard is a talent quite removed from such concerns: to realise such immersion over just four tracks is surely the sign of an uninterrupted creative process. I Am Not Who You Want is a companion piece to Lifeblood, albeit a touch more upbeat; not that Howard’s defeated vocal delivery dares to allow a little optimism into the mix. Its grand, orchestral-style climax bleeds away, leaving only twitchy beats; which, in turn, introduce Fade to White, a closer of little consequence compared to what precedes it but beautifully formed nonetheless.

Something this slight of form but rich in potential could well fall short of full-length brilliance – but, right here and right now, Halls is mesmerising stuff in small doses.

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