The video accompaniment to ‘Roses For The Dead’ is a close-up of a beating cardiac muscle. One under the strain of pressure, high and low. A strong steady pulse with moments of palpitation. Life’s elemental organ, drowning in its own purpose. The heart of Ark.
For all his modernistic influence and peers, Samuel Howard is timelessly elegiac. The churchly minimalism of Ark owes as much to nu-classical composers – Max Richter, Johann Johannsson and Nils Frahm – as it does to the darker shades of London’s stark scene – James Blake, The xx, Burial and by extension Thom Yorke’s solo work. Halls’ debut is thematically grave, a record entrenched with concerns of divinity – religious overtones reflected in song titles such as ‘Holy Communion’, ‘Winter Prayer’ and ‘Funeral’. It’s entire leitmotif is funereal. What Howard lacks in vocal tone and strength he atones with a sepulchral punch – intricate percussion, gusty keys, choral swells and poignant silence.
‘White Chalk’ uses timed nothingness and suspended notes as a juxtaposition to a retrained choir arrangement and punctuating instrumentation. But it’s not all sparseness and empty space. Stillness is balanced by rhythmic fireworks ( ’Shadow of the Colossus’). Heavy piano strikes are cushioned by dubstep drones (‘Ark’). Elsewhere, Gothic vocals are set against clarion drums and a straight-up guitar dirge with ecclesiastic effect (‘Reverie’).
Where cohesion pervades, consistency struggles. Ark’s high points are so beautifully resonant that those less intense lull in comparison. But primarily Ark is a wide-eyed collection of sad hymns, a youthful detail of vernal anguish: fear, self-doubt and claustrophobic loneliness. Even at its faintest, it is powerfully eternal.