maandag 30 oktober 2017

Hinges Of Luck. Douglas Firs

Douglas Firs entered this blog with a review by Erwin Zijleman, after which the band was followed through the years. With Hinges Of Luck we celebrate the release of the band's third album.

As things often go with bands, the album one is first introduced to remains the favourite one; if that album was a great one. To my recollection 'Shimmer And Glow' was just that. That proposition rang true for the second album, 'The Long Answer I No'. It is time to see how Hinges Of Luck fares.

The album follows a trend I see more often these days. It starts with an 'Intro'. A nondescript soundscape of the kind that is reviewed on these pages when 'Kairos' is reviewed. Here the moody piece last only 45 seconds, before another moody song starts. Bare, empty. A drum, incidental bass notes and a faint organ. And then one, two and more guitars kick in. 'The Both Of Us' nearly derails before all the noise is taken out and we are back at the beginning. Who listens closer notices the differences though. The bass and drums have switched ear. A small joke Douglas Firs allows itself and its more attentive listeners, before all hell breaks loose once again. It is that Gertjan Van Hellemont doesn't have a rougher voice, otherwise my ears might have been bleeding while listening on my headset.

Together with Sem Van Hellemont on piano, Simon Cazier on bass and Cristoph Claeys on drums, Gent based Van Hellemont makes up Douglas Firs. Like all Belgian musicians they play in (a few) other bands as well.

After the partial onslaught of 'The Both Of Us' Douglas Firs takes the mood down. Songs become more sensitive and Van Hellomont's voice goes up considerably when needed to get that extra effect. '45 Days' may be a neat song, where everything stays firmly between the lines, it holds an inner beauty that makes it a different song because of this. In songs like this and 'Too Much & Too Fast' I'm remembered of the slower songs of Neil Young. From there it is a small step to the early works of Tim Knol. The early synthesizer of ELP's 'Lucky Man' may be added, it adds an estranging layer at best.

When the next song could have been a David Crosby song of recent years, as well as one of Neil Young's most quiet ones, it becomes clear that Gertjan Van Hellemont plays no games of hide and seek with his influences. 'The Waiting Around' is over before I know it. It holds beauty yet it hasn't convinced me personally yet, because it is so obvious where this is coming from.

By then I am six songs into Hinges Of Luck and I'm happy that with 'Hannah' the tempo goes up a bit. I was in for a different pace by then. Hinges Of Luck is an album that I have to be in the mood for. There are days I simply do not reach the other side. On other days the album sucks me in and I follow the four piano notes in 'Hannah' like manna falling from the sky. "Hannah doesn't live here any more", with 'Judy' a lot more is going on. A Dylan song with a very modern sound, my brain tells me, but not the best song on the album. It seems more effect than composition.

By then I have moved into the second half of Hinges Of Luck. The part that made me wonder whether I should write a review at all. With a song like 'Undercover Lovers' it's as if the music eludes me, makes it unable for me to get a grip on it, while something tells me I could like it if I could get the right hold. Like with some songs of Broken Bells. There is a song somewhere behind what I'm hearing foremost, that I could like.

The label tells us that Hinges Of Luck is Douglas Firs' best album too date. After several listening sessions I'm still not convinced. The jazzy title song e.g. also disappears somewhere behind experimental sounds and arrangements. This one is just not for me. It does seem to hint at a new direction Douglas Firs is moving into. Tom Waits without the extremities coupled with the singing and harmonising of Neil Young, like in 'A Long Time Ago'. The band comes back to my good side here. And ends there with the beautifully played acoustic guitar of the final song 'Montréal'.

So all in all Hinges Of Luck holds a lot of beauty, but some of it just doesn't reach me in the spots where beauty has to arrive for me. I will admit to the fact that this album is a large jump away from the previous album, 'The Long Answer Is No'. Douglas Firs dares to dive off the deep end and deserves credits for that, even if not all is received well by me (at this point in time).


You can liste to 'Undercover Lovers' here:

Buy Hinges Of Luck here:

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