Neil Halstead – Sleeping on Roads

Neil Halstead
Sleeping on Roads

There’s been a slow but sure development of a new folk ideal in the midst of indie rock, and because it’s been played by musicians better known for faster music and liked by fans of the heavier sound, people don’t seem to know what to do with it. It’s as if calling it folk is un-hip, harking back to music our parents took drugs to. But sometimes you’ve got to call a duck a duck and embrace the style for what it is. There’s nothing wrong with playing folk music. In fact, it’s something undeniably great when it’s given a new, more modern sheen.
Halstead, frontman of Mojave 3 and formerly of Slowdive, recorded these songs with some friends over the course of two years, and instead of just sounding like another Mojave 3 album as some solo projects tend to do, Halstead has clearly developed his own voice. Filled with finger-picked guitar, bits of horns and light drums, and Halstead’s voice – perfectly suited for modern or old-style folk – this album is a thing of stark beauty. The songs are handed delicately but with a sense of purpose, and they possess a very calm, rhythmic feel that evokes the best comparisons to Nick Drake.
The album starts off with the extremely Drake-ish “Seasons,” even to the point that Halstead’s vocals are similar to Drake. Soft horns and light chimes fill out the beautiful track. Beginning with a beautiful intro of guitar and soft horns, “Driving with Bert” has the perfect pace, a mid-tempo, slightly bouncy rhythm and a comforting tone that Halstead’s slightly drawled vocals enhance. Halstead gets quieter and more introspective on a few songs, like the more moody “Hi-Lo and Inbetween,” and that style is expounded upon in the Mercury Rev-ish “See You On Rooftops,” a beautiful, slightly psychedelic song that is one of my favorites here. There’s some light banjo in the title track, a slightly Will Oldham-esque folk-style song that also has bits of nice electric guitar to fill out the sound. Again there’s bits of a slower Mercury Rev styling to the dreamy “Dreamed I Saw Soldiers,” and “High Hopes” finishes with a much quieter, more true-to-form folk feel, soft and simple.
Perhaps because this album was begun when Halstead was homeless for a time, there’s definitely a sense of moving and travel on the album. Not quite the deliberate, slow style of Mojave 3, Halstead keeps his songs moving, flowing beautifully around his voice and picked guitar. It makes for what is quite clearly one of my favorite albums so far this year, and perhaps Halstead would be a suitable banner-bearer for the new indie-folk sound we all love so much – but sometimes don’t want to admit.