Chasing After Shadows...Living with the Ghosts

December 24, 2019
Artist: Hammock
Release Year: 2010

Hammock has always had a certain something to their music. I may be biased, and I'll say that upfront, because I have been a huge and ever-growing fan of their music for many years now: I would even say it's a big influence in my own work. They often evoke feelings of warmth; longing; nostalgia; acceptance of things that have not gone the way you would have liked them to.

Chasing After Shadows...Living with the Ghosts marked a key point in the gradual turn of Hammock's sound direction over the years. What started as more "electronic ambient" slowly began to graduate to just "ambient" (particularly on their side projects), then to a more post-rock style a la Sigur Ros. This album is right at that threshold, and although it is somewhat new territory, Hammock knocks it out of the park.

Floating at Sea

Of interest is the album cover, which perfectly reflects the theme of the album both sonically and design-wise: Most, if not all of the songs are reminiscent of either floating somehow: Most of them seem to feel as though you're out at sea, floating away on the waves. Whether it's from hopelessness or calmness is up to the listener, I suppose.

The Backward Step is a very interesting choice of opener. It almost sounds a bit like a romantic dance sort of number, coupled with a very early introduction of the sea motif. This sort of dance-inspired "floating at sea" sound recurs frequently throughout the album. I do feel as though this is the weakest track on the album, though not by much.

Beginning with a deep, mellow, muted bass is Tristia, which instantly redeems the album. We are re-introduced to the floating, sing-song-y melody and taken further down the river, and Hammock really starts to dig in with their buildup.

Little Fly/Mouchette is as captivating as its name—it seems to be a rather obscure term used to describe architecture; or, perhaps Hammock is referring to the 1967 film with the same name. It begins so gradually until the strings, drenched in effects, swell in from the sides; with that, the easily-memorable melody chimes in.

Breathturn is certainly a pivotal cornerstone of the album—almost like Hammock was just warming us up until now. It is cathartic, beautiful and outstanding even as a standalone piece; but even amongst the spectacular work of Hammock this one stands apart. The artists' mastery of this new territory is apparent on this track, especially as the ethereal vocals kick in just after the 2:30 mark.

Gorgeous Catastrophe

The Whole Catastrophe is so beautiful—it was the one that inspired me to write this. Hammock packs so many layers into this track that it's unbelievable. I hear what must be only a low-level VCO of some sort, up through several layers of synthesizers and culminating with the swells of strings, all playing in perfect, flowing harmony, their waves washing over you as you sink in and listen.

The World We Knew as Children somehow manages to evoke that exact feeling of childhood past, right from the very first chord. Every time I hear the first notes of this song, I know I'm about to go to a warm place. Hammock has a way of bringing out that particular feeling of warm nostalgia. The track then transforms into a vaguely sailor-like tune that once again ushers home the theme of "floating at sea".

Dust in the Devil's Snow starts off eerie, but around the minute-fifteen mark it becomes more familiar, a clean guitar repeating a simple melody while layer upon layer of sound dances in the background. What Hammock does really is impressive and truly does need to be heard for yourself: Try to follow any one sound, and you're always bound to stumble onto others. Hammock has a way of washing things together while keeping them clearly-delineated sonically. And once again, the trademark Hammock crescendo drops us off and leaves us wanting more: oddly subtle, but no less moving than a much more intense post-rock group like Mono. Hammock's never gets old, either. As the song progresses, we once again realize the sounds of water; of acceptance of loss; of solemnly looking forward to the future. One instrument echoes eerily, a second crescendo drops you off and the leftover distortion sounds like a hollow screaming as some ultra-soft synths lull you back under after the intensity. Very cool stuff on this track.

How Can I Make You Remember Me? is lovely—soothing. Great track to relax, think, work, study, or even sleep to, but still layered, interesting, warm, varied, and worth paying attention to.

You Lost the Starlight in Your Eyes brings back Hammock's perfect, sparse, subtle vocals—they never hurt. This song sounds in parts almost like a lazy day at the beach, but those parts are not nearly as important as the segments that separate them: layered, effects-heavy vocal tracks blanketed with a thick layer of strings. Hammock really started getting strings right on this album. At first the length of this track seems daunting, but around 4 1/2 minutes in it changes pace and keeps things fresh, providing a much colder contrast to that warm, sunny day at the beach.

The album concludes with Something Other Than Remaining, the shortest track on the album, clocking in just over 3 minutes long. Despite the relative bluntness of the track, it's the perfect ending to the album, gripping tightly on to the "floating" theme even as the sound draws its last breath.

Mastering Mastery

Production quality and finesse is also of note on this album—it sounds absolutely great no matter what sound system I play it on, from $500 headphones to studio monitors to my PC to a cell phone to vinyl.

If all that wasn't enough, Hammock is relatively accessible. As a personal anecdote, I don't think I've ever met anyone among the non-music-hobbyists in my life who absolutely doesn't like Hammock. And if anything, they're better than ever on this album, though critics will often applaud only their earlier, more artificial-sounding releases.

This one definitely gets a recommendation from me. It's especially of interest to post-rock, ambient, shoegaze, possibly modern classical, even dream pop fans. In addition, Chasing After Shadows offers utility in that it can be an excellent album for studying, working, relaxing, meditating, thinking, or even sleeping to, so it could be worth a listen even if you aren't a fan of the genre. In addition, it's a spectacular entry point to the post-rock genre for someone who is a newcomer.

Final Rating

Fantastic