The Halifax Pier – S/T

The Halifax Pier have the distinction of releasing my favorite album of the year, at least so far. This album is some of the most beautiful and complex and amazing music that I have heard in quite some time. Fans of the more mellow and beautiful side of indie rock as well as fans of the more melodic and complex instrumental rock will absolutely adore this album.
That being said, who is The Halifax Pier? I had never heard of the band before, but that doesn’t mean much. This six-piece from Louisville, KY, play mostly acoustic mellow indie rock with as much emphasis on the strings as the guitar, bass and drums. About half of the six songs are instrumental, with vocals playing a major part of the others but clearly not being the focus. These songs are mostly long – over the 5 minute mark – and never repetitive, coming out in various powers and moods, from haunting and slow to more powerful and emotional. There are strains of Very Secretary in the use of the violin, in Tristeza in the melodic instrumentalism, of Nick Drake in the soft, just-above-a-whisper vocals, and of The Dirty Three in the more melodic and pretty song structure. But fans of music in general should love this.
Just listen to how the album starts off on “untitled”: some beautiful acoustic guitar, played almost classically, with a subtle rhythm, and then the cello and violin kick in, slow and haunting, as the music slowly picks up pace throughout. The four slowest tracks, including this one, were recorded in a small house without any amplifiers to preserve the perfect acoustics. Percussion and soft-picked guitar are the framework of “Voices from the Front Line,” even though the cello is probably the loudest instrument heard. Just when you’re sure this is another instrumental, Nathan Salsburg’s vocals come in, soft and perfectly fitting to the music. The band has the ability to go from slow and flowing and suddenly blast out, louder and more powerful, with perfect production making it sound like they’re playing right around you. The mix of male and female vocals in the more structured “Chance to Leave” is just stunning. I swear, I want to close my eyes to listen to this song. It reminds me of the new Yo La Tengo and some faster Will Oldham in a way, but oh so much prettier.
“Strange News From Another Star” is much more powerful, with the vocals much more emphasized and louder, but it’s no less beautiful. It does have a darker feeling, as Salsburg sings, “Please give us the strength to guard these days as though they could be our last.” “Halifax Bound,” at over 11 minutes, runs the gambit, starting very slow and soft, with deep male vocals and soft female vocals singing together before going off on a soft, steady flowing rhythm. The song dissolves to almost nothing before exploding back with a flurry of violin and cello and guitar and drums, turning out one of the most beautiful instrumental pieces I have ever heard. Although the strings are gorgeous, it’s the amazing guitar work here that just kills me. And the album finishes with the epic “The Old Constellations,” which is about as close as the band gets to regular rock. It’s got a deeply haunting aspect to it, reminiscent of the feel of The Black Heart Procession, and the drumwork is stellar. The vocals swirl around the music for most of the song, before it slows, with heavy bass and screaching strings, finally exploding back again into the most amazing melodic piece, faster and stronger and suddenly ending, leaving me hanging, waiting for more.
The Halifax Pier have been the first album I listen to every day at work for the past three weeks. The music puts me in a good and relaxed mood without being so slow it puts me to sleep. And when the last notes drop off abruptly, leaving silence, I have to look around and remind myself where I am and shake off the mesmerizing effect the music has. It’s a difficult album to review, because it’s too easy to get lost in the music and the complexity of it. But review it I must, because you must know how amazing this is and buy it for yourself.