Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.
I've had the pleasure of seeing fellow northsider Dan Hylton perform at quite a few events, from the Camden Farmers Market to last year's FLOW, and he even provided ambient background music at the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council's annual dinner last year. Dan's a great guy, a fellow housing geek, and a darned good musician to boot. So I jumped at the chance to review his upcoming album, "The Secret of Him," before its August 4 release concert at The Warren.
I had the CD on loop while working on my own FLOW presentation, and it made for great accompanying music. This by itself is high praise, as I usually write and do other projects in silence. But since I was focused on other things while giving the album a spin, my first impression wasn't about any particular song but instead about the album's tone. "Music to listen to while curled up under a blanket on a rainy day" was what kept coming up in the back of my mind. I thought specifically of two of my favorite such albums, Jonathan Rundman's "Wherever" and Nick Drake's "Pink Moon." Interestingly enough, both of those albums employ a green/white/gray color scheme. Rundman, by the way, is a former northsider himself and has done concerts at Papa's Pizza with the Camden School of Music.
The other nice touch is that Hylton chose to include the lyrics. For someone like me, who is deaf in one ear, lyrics are a tremendous help. My final play through of the album prior to review was done with the lyrics in front of me as I scribbled impressions of each song. That started with...
..."My Friends, the Brits." And straight away the grammarian in me loved the decision to (properly) use a comma in the song title. Good choice. The song describes unseen connections with one's heritage, past, and ancestry, assuming here that Hylton's family hails from Britain themselves. His friends, the Brits, don't arrive in person, but merely provide creative inspiration. It's a fitting opening title.
"Green Colored Eyes" is an understated love song in the vein of R.E.M.'s "At My Most Beautiful." I've never really gone for these grand, sweeping love songs because those are much more about infatuation and anyone can write about that. No, lasting love is made up of those little moments like watching someone sleep, coffee and conversation, coffee and the comfort of not needing conversation at all, or sitting at home with the curtains billowing. The song closes with a line that changes its narrative after the listener hears the final lyric.
"The Good Night Loves You So" continues in the vein of understated love songs. Perhaps because I'd listened to the album as a whole before breaking it down song by song, my mind kept wandering to the poet Dylan Thomas' famous opening line, "Do not go gentle into that good night." The fourth song, "Standing Above Where You Lay" is an ode to a lost loved one - presumably Hylton's father, to whom the album is dedicated. But in contrast to Thomas' rallying cry against death, this track starts with the line "Go softly in that soft and fading light." I'm not a big fan of using "soft" twice in the same line, but the imagery of standing above where someone lay - at a funeral, or perhaps a grave - is powerful enough to forgive the initial redundancy.
"Joan" had lyrics that didn't jump out at me at all, but I liked the progression of its chords and rhythm changes. Not every song has to be crafted by a master wordsmith. Some succeed based on how they make you feel.
The finale, "Boy," makes the initial mistake of starting a song with the word "crappiness" but at least he didn't try and rhyme it with happiness later. And the second line overemphasizes the tone: "The grimness all around him so much darker than his dreams..." The reason I didn't care for that line is because Hylton recovers nicely in the following verses with the best imagery on the entire album. The grittiness described with "Heart on the street, pounded into the ground/You could stay at our place if the slackers weren't around" makes the song's second line unnecessary.
Pick up a copy of "The Secret of Him" when it comes out, and in the fall when you're curled up on the couch, reading on a rainy day, you'll find a perfect accompaniment.