Halley – Forget the Leaves, Autumn Will Change Us

Forget the Leaves, Autumn Will Change Us

Within four minutes of Forget the Leaves, Autumn Will Change Us, the 14-year-old inside myself was foaming at the mouth. I grew up on walls of guitars and sonic drama – this whole “indie rock” thing only got around to tapping me on the shoulder after I owned every Catherine Wheel album and owned three separate distortion pedals (and, incidentally, had stupidly declared myself staunchly anti-Pavement). “Listen to this,” the young-me was therefore yelling at myself, my voice cracking, “How many fucking guitars is this on top of each other? There’s probably, like, ninety! This is fucking amazing!” He (I?) has a point; Halley have a marked penchant for radioing in guitarmies through transistor radios, or stapling entire choruses to organs and then burying them in horns – and it sounds good. For a debut album, Forget the Leaves… piles on a lion’s share of instruments (hence, along with all the noise, the well-earned comparisons to Mercury Rev’s debut), and manages them with stunning results. This album’s most chaotic sections are, without a doubt, its most rewarding.
Of course, Halley are far from the first band to grab every instrument they can and start maelstromin’, and if this were some overdone Yrself is a Priest-Driven Ambulance knockoff, I’d be the first to call them on it. Where it separates itself from its peers is in its mood, and in its stature. Concerning the first of these terms: I suspect that Halley self-namecheck bands like Grandaddy due not to similarities in songwriting or instrumentation, but due to the feeling of bombast found in songs like “AM 180” or “MGM Grand,” which you can feel in Halley’s songs, like “Peninsula Pomegranate Pendegrass,” despite being entirely disparate in nearly every other way. On the other hand, though, Halley’s uber-instrumentation and smart production give them the heft and momentum of some sort of alternate-universe fever-dream Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Where a band with equal intent to make noise would be content simply attacking the listener, Halley surround and loom. The effect is astonishing – and whether that’s simply a factor of excellent production, which is an earmark of this album, or of conscious choices in arrangement is beyond me – and maybe beside the point.
Forget the Leaves… is a hell of a debut, and one bands could spend a career trying to match up to. Where Halley could stand to pay a little more attention is in the basic structure of their songs – while each of these 12 tracks has distinct passages, and each ebbs and flows, I am left with very few distinct impressions from particular tracks as the album plays. While ensuring that none of these songs falls apart on their own is likely a daunting task in and of itself, further making these songs distinct and memorable would be enough to break this band. That’s something of a grand statement, but it’s an entirely deserved one; Halley might be newcomers, but they are neither slouches nor hacks. Listening to just four minutes of Forget the Leaves… will prove that to anyone – even if they don’t have a woozepop-filled childhood to help them fall in love with it.