I recall their EP being similarly phantasmagorical in places and tracks like Thunder don’t do much to dispel the notion that they conjure with things unseen.
Not that long ago I reviewed this band’s remarkable EP and now I have a chance to spin their long player which, I am glad to say, is a notable record too. Hiva Oa are an intense bunch on this evidence, this isn't any old folk rock release. And the way the band mixes the mystical and direct elements in their sound is pretty damn good.
Floods kicks the whole thing off –it’s an essentially quiet track despite the stomping beat, the guitar and vocals are so far up in the mix that it’s as if the singer’s whispering in your ear. There’s also this stillness inherent in their sound that immediately demands your attention. It could be the singer’s voice, but on this track (and the last, Call of the Wind), you could be mistaken in thinking that Paul Buchanan from The Blue Nile is playing in a folk band in the tap room of your local. That spell is broken when the spooky female vocals suddenly descend on the track, almost like a flock of gulls to bring matters to a close. The next track, The Minder, is a strange whisper that sounds it’s recorded outside, given all the background mutterings and hiss… it just doesn’t feel like it belongs in any time and space, and who is this minder?
I recall their EP being similarly phantasmagorical in places and tracks like Thunder don’t do much to dispel the notion that they conjure with things unseen. These Hands has more of a focus in this world: it’s a mix between a run through of some Buckley-eqsque troubadour stylings and an uncomplicated thrash, the gipsy "feel" driven by the meandering guitar part and dolorous cello line.It all gets a bit raga, a bit growly and intense, which is great; the voice being the only part that doesn’t get overly assertive, becoming in turn a sort of anchor.
As you will probably figure, there’s something of the late 60’s folk bands in the whole feel; it has that musty, sealed off quality that Fairport or Pentangle records had. It’s earnest, a little bit dreamy. It’s also quietly observant; tracks like Urban, the instrumental Seadog and Thunder are like a watchful household animal. This record does cut loose: Not In My Name occasionally breaks its bounds and Mindful Of is deeply trippy, the band sounding like they’re cast adrift on some misty lake. Badger returns to spook us all out with the treated vocals / synths sounding like some Daphne Oram experiment.
It’s different, it’s just different to what’s about: there’s something in this LP’s make up that stands out from the crowd. And it’s certainly recommended for a reflective afternoon’s listen.