A lot of music begs to be dissected. Sometimes, it’s a song’s lyrics, its politics or poetry or the story itself, or its musical complexity—manic key or and chord changes, hiccuping time signatures, slasher flick dynamics; sometimes, it’s in the mood conveyed or evoked and the subtle means to those ends. There’s meaning to be found in these songs hidden beneath the surface, and the right slice will reveal its fascinating mechanics.
But then there are albums that resist intellectual scrutiny—that, instead, rely more on instinct and feel, something more kinesthetic and corporeal than mere music theory. Take Cincinnati, OH’s LIGHTWASH, whose second EP Half Hung colors a room, tints its listeners—allows them to feel the song by eliminating their need to think about it.
This, for course, is not the say that Half Hung doesn’t display some impressive songwriting. On songs like “Walkathon,” the guitars chime in bold Crayola hues; their harlequin patterns are sometimes sparse and open; sometimes weave bright baskets; sometimes zig in sharp, smirking zags. On other songs, like the hushed “Retirement Plans,” chords slip in and out of each measure like ghosts, keyboards and slide guitars that drape over each a meditative drumbeat and playfully overlap. Singer James Bishop’s voice rarely rises above a whisper on these songs, and his lyrics sometimes disappear in the other melodies; in effect, his voice is often reduced to another instrument—to another mesmerizing layer.
That said, it's simplicity that steers these songs. The shanks of guitar that skewer “Tinder” appear twice each measure, mimic a syncopated drumbeat recorded in 1966; bratty synths waft through this song, though its murky chords dissipate in time for each overcast verse. Though each individual instrument plays an uncomplicated part, the whole seems alive, occupied by a spirit or emotion, some abstraction allows it's audience to live it. The same is true for the rest of Half Hung—on “My Song,” whose skeptical energy produces a perfect opening track; on “Thunder,” with its dusty strut; on “If Only,” which abandons its snap-pop beat to a boundless plane of harmony. These are songs meant to infiltrate a party, filter through the listener, induce involuntary movement and emotion, condense into some palpable mood that collects on the ceiling.
There’s meaning to be found in Half Hung too, but it’s not hidden beneath the surface—which is, of course, why it so successfully resists dissection. Not only is LIGHTWASH’s music a puzzle that fits together so well that its pieces can’t be plucked from their positions; it’s also easy to enter, easy to occupy, easy to become. Sure, there’s plenty to inspect beneath the surface of these songs; it just seems less necessary when the listener becomes a part of it.