A debut with flashes of pure perfection from rising British talent Sam Howard.
Mike Diver 2012-10-10
Sometimes an entire album can be near enough defined by a single track. It happens more than you might think – where a breakout moment elevates an overall collection to greatness. And so it is with Ark, the debut long-player from south London’s Sam Howard.
As Halls, Howard has been on the radars of those moved by a deeply melancholic breed of bass-invoking introspection for some time. His Fragile EP of January 2012 was a snapshot of supreme potential, four tracks that perfectly suited their overarching title. Dubstep drones collided with plaintive piano chords; white on black, splinters retaining their original shades without blending into a forgettable grey ambience.
Those songs were marked by movement where other purveyors of down-tempo, electro-coloured kind-of-nu-classical creations idly meander in circles for a 45-minute run-time. And, likewise, Ark features compositions which flex and pulse, that explode from stillness into glorious cacophony.
Shadow of the Colossus is one such number. If it’s named after the seminal PlayStation 2 videogame, then it expertly captures that title’s twin characteristics of towering impressiveness and prolonged post-experience poignancy – play 'em and weep.
Similarly, Roses for the Dead evolves from barely-there-at-all atmospherics into a marriage of keys suitable for the soundtracking of suns rising behind the silhouettes of planets and palpitating digital percussion. Holy Communion is another piece that shifts, quite masterfully, from synthesized strings and wistful washes into fiery, melt-your-face-off drumming.
But it’s White Chalk, this set’s first single, which lifts the whole to unexpected heights. It’s a song that trips over a false start, entirely deliberately: Howard at the piano, as good as unaccompanied, offering a vocal that begins and then, suddenly.
And in that moment the listener does too. A second’s pause, a moment’s silence, turns out to be this album’s first great hook; and its most powerful one. From there, fat bass thuds appear, Howard returns to his piano, a drum kit clicks into life, and the most heavenly-sounding choir lifts everything skywards. Another pause, and the choir sings out alone, and the throat swells, and then, suddenly.
One realises that Howard probably doesn’t need to write another song, ever again, as perfection can be a troublesome target to nail twice.