Boa Howl is a record in love with detail. It pines for the forgotten, for a more regal approach to writing and capturing. It hides in plain sight, layered with threads that only make themselves known should you choose to seek them out. Shorn of overt digital sheen, its scratches and tiny imperfections are as important to the structure as everything else. Committing fully to their art house aesthetic, Halves went to great lengths to ensure that their sophomore effort – following on from 2010’s Choice-nominated It Goes, It Goes (Forever & Ever) – would occupy its own unique landscape. A fortnight in Gothenberg’s Svenska Grammofon Studion saw the band utilise reel-to-reel tape and a Neve analogue console once used by Queen and Johnny Cash (If you’ve seen Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary, you know the score).
The result is one of the most sonically engaging records of the year. Trippy opener ‘Drumhunter’ will likely draw Radiohead comparisons – in fairness, it’s difficult not to think of ‘Bloom’ as it extends before you, awash with rickety percussion and ethereal vocals – but it’s actually closer to a more focused These New Puritans. Where the Southend outfit’s recent Field of Reeds apparently treated the fleshing out of ideas with contempt, Boa Howl wraps a loving embrace around creation and cohesion. Inspirations are quickly seized upon, birthing narratives of notable challenge and reward. ‘The Glass Wreckage’ is more direct than its predecessor but no less mysterious, another assembly of swirls and digressions that manage to retain a strong sense of togetherness.
The haunting ‘Drip Pools’ takes the forward momentum of ‘…Wreckage’ and quickly traps it in a noirish maze of tension, its small instrumental sections burning more and more hypnotic as the pace methodically holds. ‘Tanager Peak’ features a notable collaboration in the form of Gemma Hayes, her soft, breathy delivery teased out against hushed tones. It would have been so simple for Halves to overplay this hand, but Hayes’ minimalist contribution carefully elevates their most accomplished arrangement yet. The presentation of the tracklisting suggests a three-act structure. It’s a script that Halves stick to quite rigidly, the opening flourish giving way to a midsection that needs to come down in order for the final crescendo to truly pay off. It’s an admirable approach executed with aplomb, though patience is required on the part of the listener.
As such, ‘Best Summer’ is transitional, taking us by the hand from twilight to starlight, ushering in several songs of quiet contemplation, replete with the occasional, pointed burst. Though this section of Boa Howl is not without its issues as the languid stride threatens to become a crawl, it is thrilling to witness seemingly small moments craft major happenings. Closer ‘Let Them Come’ provides needed release, itself beautifully fed by the winsome ‘Polynia’, distant haze melting into stark clarity as darkness plays with light. Boa Howl may not be immediate, but when it hits, it breaks barriers.