I’ve been wondering if this album actually should be on this website as it probably sits just outside of our usual coverage, in terms of genre. Think of a Slowcore style Radiohead with more folky, ambient, and noise elements. For the record, I think Slowcore is a ridiculous genre name, but it does describe this album particularly well. From Wikipedia: “The music of slowcore artists is generally characterized by bleak lyrics, downbeat melodies, slower tempos and minimalist arrangements”. This is what you are getting in spades and it is wonderful!
Navigator is Her Name Is Calla’s first album since 2010’s brilliant A Quiet Lamb. They have been relatively quiet since then save a 2 track release entitled Ragman Roll in 2012. The subject matter explains why and makes this release an extremely personal one for the musicians involved. The band’s description of the album follows.
“Written over the course of the last three tumultuous years as life, death, distance, divorce and everything else in between tried its best to pull the band apart. Navigator is a story of dreams that fail and do not materialise as youth slips away. It is the story of leaving one life behind and heading into the unknown of another. It is a story of losing love, life, faith and identity, and the great depression that brings. More importantly, it is about finding the way back home again.”
It takes a strong group of people to really hold a band together, or at least one incredibly tenacious person for whom taking no for an answer is akin to lying down and dying. When life throws the things that the band describes at members you know that you have got to come out strong to keep things going. This whole album is a very personal journey that, even though reflecting on worse times, exudes a tremendous amount of strength. The tense moves from past to present throughout but I feel that the words were probably written in hindsight. Hindsight makes you see what you could not at the time so the lyrics feel far more honest than they might have been.
Adding the powerful delivery of the lyrics to the music makes for an emotional rollercoaster. What really makes an impact is that Her Name Is Calla sound like Her Name Is Calla, but there are so many different sounds and influences rearing their heads throughout. Each song stands alone, but I could not imagine feeling the need not to listen to the whole album to re-live the whole story every time.
The album begins with I Was on the Back of a Nightingale. An acoustic guitar introduces the vocals and a simple snare beat along with a banjo fill out the sound. Finally a violin joins in to support. It is a very simple arrangement that really supports the vocal delivery. The initial chord progression and strumming pattern reminded me of Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees and the initial banjo strums made me think of a better Mumford & Sons. Then the next track, The Roots Run Deep, is static electronic beats and droning synth, it has an almost 80’s feel to it and is completely not in keeping with the first track, but it works and I could not imagine any other two tracks being together.
Following on the tracks again just display different sounds, but tie in nicely. It’s called, ‘Daisy’ is an ambient interlude and then Ragman Roll comes on like a b-side from Radiohead’s Amnesiac album, with piano chords and Thom Yorke-esque vocals. In fact, despite having quite a unique vocal style, lead singer Tom Morris often drops into Thom Yorke style delivery. Meridian Arc, the first song that you might be able to describe as lively due to the pounding drums and overdriven guitars, has some Pablo Honey era Thom Yorke crooning thrown in. I do not think it is a problem, the different delivery styles bring even more variation and in this album you start to expect it.
Most of the tracks clock in between three and five minutes, but the title track is one of the longer tracks and is a wonderful slow burner with a really simple and really effective guitar melody that comes in just over half way through. When you think it is over it picks up again and builds to something really cinematic.
After the halfway point it is easy to lose your place in the album. I think the album length (just over an hour) and the melancholic heaviness of the whole thing has a part to play in this. This atmosphere can bring you down with it, which is not necessarily the aim of the album, but being pulled in is a testament to the whole release. Still the tracks are solid, especially the album’s longest track, Dreamlands. In fact the use of noise and static in parts of that track made my wife react in fear. She wasn’t expecting it and it put her into a fight or flight mode when that part entered. I like noise so I am totally with the track on this one, but the power of a sound to create that reaction just strengthens the music’s appeal to me.
Now I got into this album straight away. It appeals to me on so many levels: the variety of sounds, the whole “concept” feel, the brilliant vocals from each band member. I could go on. However I could see the length of the album putting some people off and sometimes the longer tracks probably could be curbed in length a little. That was I trying to play the Devil’s Advocate though. I love this album and you should give it your time.