Darren Hanlon – Little Chills

Darren Hanlon
Little Chills

Australia’s Darren Hanlon is a clever singer/songwriter whose charms are destined to get lost in a world that values flash over substance. Even worse for Darren, the world in question also happens to contain a surfeit of clever singer/songwriters already, each strumming their own tales of awkward love and alienation for friends and patient locals who appreciatively coo, “He’s just as good as…”

In Darren’s case, the names dropped might be Ron Sexsmith, Elvis Costello, or the Chills’ Martin Phillips, assuming those locals happened to be musically erudite enough to make the comparisons. Note the tiny details of everyday life given loving and observant treatment, or the rush of words ending in painfully pithy rhymes, all delivered in the friendly twang of a pensive but warm and gregarious Aussie (though Phillips is a New Zealander – close enough). He may not have Sexsmith’s eye for detail, Costello’s bile, or hooks equal to those of the Chills’, but he is a fine tunesmith and lyricist in his own right.

Little Chills is the work of a smart, sensitive fellow, a guy you’d be lucky to sit beside after wandering solo into an unknown pub. “These are my principles, if you don’t like them I’ve got others / These are my opinions, if you don’t agree, I’ve got big brothers,” he sings with a sly grin on the typically likable “The Unmade Bed.” Like much of the record, the song is winsome and tuneful but relaxed almost to a fault. It’s unlikely to burrow deep into your ear – and pop songs are the only things you want burrowing into your ear – or demand a place at the top of your CD stack. So if Darren is the guy you’re next to in a bar, he may also be the acquaintance whose back you slap with warm but anonymous affection before moving on to your crowd of mates. “Who was that?” they may ask. “Oh, just some guy,” you reply.

The laudably minimal production throughout the disc keeps the focus squarely on Darren’s voice and the vaguely generic melancholy that permeates songs like “Brooklyn Bridge.” Little Chills actually sounds more stark than it really is, and that combined with the excessive length of most of these tunes will probably prevent the listener from playing the disc all the way through. The brevity of the opener “Wrong Turn” may have been a better template for Hanlon, the short meditation on chance meetings doing what the songs character does: makes a connection, drains his beer, than moves on. Those fleeting moments may be weighted with portent that outstrips their duration, but that doesn’t mean they need to evolve into anything more than what they are. A valuable lesson delivered just over two minutes, thank you very much.

I didn’t love Little Chills, it’s true, but I find a lot to like about Darren Hanlon. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to cross paths with him, if only for a moment.