Album Review: ‘Parklands’ by Hiatus

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There is something seriously wrong with the way we listen to music. We have become inattentive brats, allowing a generous ten seconds of something before we switch, shuffle or skip onto whatever’s next. It is not good. It leaves music in the hands of the marketeers, who gorge songs on a diet of those repetitive and derivative hooks which have been identified as statistically most-likely to hold our increasingly frenetic attention. It is patronising. And it is our own lazy fault.

I pride myself on being better than that, but I am, apparently, not. On first listen, I skipped through each track of Hiatus’ upcoming ‘Parklands album after a few seconds. Not catchy enough. Not juicy enough. Not overwhelming enough.

Not good.

Then – there may yet be hope – I had a quietly infuriated word with myself, and played the album through beginning to end. Then I played it again to prove my point. And then I played it once more, just so that when I came to write this article I could be annoyingly smug and say I’d done it three times.

For someone accustomed to driving half-asleep to work with Top 40 radio (forgive me, I know not what I do), listening to Hiatus’ album felt akin to trying to understand someone talking in a foreign language. It is downbeat, simple, quiet, understated, melancholy, beautiful. I didn’t understand it. I loved that.

Hiatus, born Cyrus Shahrad, has put together an album which blends downplayed beats, minimalist piano, just-so synth arrangements and a smattering of more exotic instruments to keep things unique. What really threads things together though is the haunting vocals of guest singer Shura, whose delicate, vulnerable, and utterly beautiful lines remind me of Sia-that-was before she started mailing pieces of her soul to David Guetta for use in his industrial pop-forge.

The best track is “Cloud City, which features a churning synth that cascades over an empty-sounding beat with Shura intoning a repeated phrase, over and over, on top of it. It shouldn’t work, by most contemporary standards it doesn’t work, but it is hypnotic. And I love that. Other stand-outs include the nylon-string guitar-powered “Fortune’s Fool” and the absolute blinder of “As Close to Me as You Are Now”, a song which builds from what sounds suspiciously like early-90s piano-driven techno to a chorus dominated by (of all things) a Gregorian choir. I loved that.

The thing that appeals most about this album however is how it is so pared back the listener has to fill gaps in for themselves. I can’t quite describe it, but ‘Parklands’ seems more evocative precisely because it says so little. I took a book on holiday once that was so inscrutable I spent hours trying to wrap my head around it. Turns out my lack of understanding was because I am an idiot and the book was number four in a quadrilogy, but by then it was too late: the time I’d invested in working all the oblique references and (what seemed like purposeful) omissions left me hooked, and this album has exactly the same effect. It is not obvious, it is not overt, it is the very opposite of most 21st century music, and it is quite brilliant.

Case and point: the lyrics in opener “We Could Be Ghosts Now”. The song talks of tracer fire scarring the sky, rockets flowering over London, rivers running black and red and encroaching dust clouds and I have absolutely no idea what it means. Terrorism? WWIII? The apocalypse? – Hiatus isn’t telling. I have to figure it out myself. I’ll almost certainly be wrong, but it is an interpretation that works and I am in no way being spoonfed. The album treats me like a grown up capable of coming to my own conclusions. I really love that.

‘Parklands’ is released on 13th May 2013.

Album Rating: ★★★★☆

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