South London’s Sam Howard, AKA Halls, caught my attention two years ago with the release of his Fragile EP. I remember thinking to myself “wow, now that’s how you use space.” Even though I felt like the compositions were a bit lacking, the ideas were there – they just needed to be developed. Then in 2013 he released Ark, his debut full-length album. A cold, obscure work that demonstrated his prowess as a writer and executer of abstract minimal concepts, Ark took the space I loved so much in Fragile and combined it with deliberate, thoughtful composition. Halls manages to create a largely empty world filled only with mumbled, reverb-drenched vocals, hard (and at times disorienting) percussion, and lonely piano.
Earlier this month Halls released Love to Give, his follow up to Ark. He has stated that he wished to reach out to his audience with this album by including warmer, more human qualities. His sophomore work begins with its title track sporting the familiar somber tones that were fundamental to Ark, but quickly differentiates itself from its predecessor by introducing a sort of warm optimism. Halls makes an effort to clear up his vocals and abandons his mumbles. The reverb is less processed compared with his previous album and the resulting sound is more organic. The instrumentation seems more real and the tracks are given an almost live-recorded feel. Where Ark represents a cold reflective emptiness, Love to Give represents a vehicle of optimistic exploration. The music swells and bursts with subtle euphoria as Howard slowly fills the empty space that was characteristic of his previous projects with walls of noise, soft melody, and explosive percussion. The result is a sound reminiscent of post-rockers Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky.
The album is best epitomized by “Forelsket,” its most anthemic track. The songs title means “in love” or “enamored” in Danish, but I believe the music does a far better job at defining the word. Loose instrumentation at its start seems to represent confusion and unease and sounds as though it would not be out of place in a Sun Ra experiment. The song is drenched in feeling and its rawness drips with passion. Love to Give is a beautiful work of art that is meant for everyone who is willing to receive it.