H. Hawkline – The Strange Uses of Ox Gall (Shape)

h hawkline the strange uses of ox gall

Starting in much the same delightfully squeaky fashion as he prior mini-album A Cup Of Salt this LP from H. Hawkline kicks off proper with the woozy, innocent Gorkys-like refrain of Ballast, which has an appropriately wave washed rhythm bobbing along pleasantly, looping like a jaunty carousel in a fashion akin to Mr. Scruff‘s fishy obsessions.

The sunshine folk of Funny Bones marries Hawkline’s vocal alongside a soothing female voice, a sugary sweet alignment to the songs carefree and whimsical lyrics; ‘That’s okay, I’ll just hide behind my hands all day.’ Like a number of his contemporaries – and often collaborators, as Hawkline (aka Huw Evans) has performed alongside a large number of faces on the Welsh music scene (Sweet Baboo, Cate Le Bon and Gruff Rhys to name a few) – there’s a folksy marriage of pop alongside occasionally prog and psychedelic influences enlivening the arrangments with – in this case – spooky, timid organ lines, splatters of plinky plonky piano and a nice ebb and flow to the structure from upbeat to mellow dirge. There’s more than a little of the Super Furry Animals about the song’s lively finale, lyrics rattled off in a flutter amongst the buoyant body-shaking instrumentation.

Mind How You Go has a regal sounding guitar line, sleepy eyed harmonica and a camp-side festival feel. It’s followed by the daffy minute long Big Red, which has a repeated muffled giggling snatch of dialogue playing out amongst a barking strident little ditty. The solemn Surf Pound is next, it manages to bottle up sea-side sun-down vibes with considerable skill, so much so that you can practically feel the water washing your toes and the sand between your fingers. Evans’ voice is dulcet and the cooing refrains are like a warm towel after a cold wave, this record, somewhat surprisingly, is steeped in melancholy, whereas his previous release had a slightly livelier and raggedy edge.

Giåt is a previous recording with Evans scatting out an imagined guitar riff, before the psych-pop of My Dreams strikes up, a skipping guitar line and joyfully clapped tambourine propel the song along its easy-going course. The watery preoccupation continues on the minimal lament of Sea of Sand, followed by the banjo driven Two Ghosts At Sea in which Evans sounds somewhat James Yorkston-esque, the banjo punctuated by an array of subtle, yet clinky percussion before a spine-tingling and feverish drum beat rises up – much as it did on his last record’s stand-out track Carreg (Lleuad I) – and propels the song towards a dizzy, invigorating peak before it returns, without batting an eyelid, into the previous jaunty refrain of ‘Time can fly, let sleeping dogs lie.’

The ballad You Say You Love Me feels like folksy Pavement on its verses, transforming into an ethereal swoon at times, Evans pining ‘I used to only see you there, but then I think I saw you everywhere’ with a bittersweet hounddog howl. The track comes to a destructive close, that may worry anyone listening to this on its limited vinyl release, before drifting into the final track It Takes a Lot of Gall to Make Ink; a heavy hearted organ line and sounds of a youthful crowd counting down repeated alongside a line of reportage. Winding to a close with a chirpy organ line, nimbly plucked guitar and the enjoyable squeak of a fret board.

Something of a different beast to his previous record, this is a pleasurably sad and mellow record that occasionally, tentatively finds a lively hop in its step, but is punctuated by tender and bittersweet songs.


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