Have/Hold’s debut ‘King Salt’ is a great album. I really love the anthemic, post-rock tinged take on alt-rock that the band captured on it, earnest but free of the pretentiousness and preciousness that puts me off bands like The World is a Beautiful Place and Foxing. You can tell that, aside from being an emo band at heart, Have/Hold was a band that liked to rock out every once in a while. The music just had something of a hard-rock edge to it. It wasn’t a perfect album (my main criticism is that the vocals are mixed a little louder than I think they should be) but it was a charming one, and it made Have/Hold feel like that rare Melbourne alt-rock band that I could rally around, defend if need be. Their sophomore album, ‘We Are a Ghost Now, You & I’ changes that a little for me, showing them moving away from the harder edge that characterised their previous work and moving further into the realms of indie rock. Have/Hold isn’t rocking out anymore: now they’re tugging at your heartstrings.
I’m sure that, for a lot of people, it’ll prove to be very effective. These are convincing emo tunes, very well-written, very well-produced, very well-performed. The songs are arranged well, but the parts themselves are often there to take the music to higher, more emotional heights, and it feels like too much. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but it means that my overall enjoyment of it has to be based more on how well I respond emotionally to the melodies, the atmosphere, the performances, and the lyrics – and for the most part, I just didn’t have much of a response. The sound is serviceable, sometimes great. The songs are fine. But for whatever reason, it just doesn’t get me emotionally like their debut did. The songs are too… “heart-on-your-sleeve…y.” Too wordy. Introspective, but in a way I just don’t find very appealing. And they’re all delivered in a way that toes the between affecting and overwrought – sometimes stepping just a little too far over.
Luke Shields’ singing is distinct and probably one of the bands greatest strengths, but for people like me who are generally averse to over(ly emotional)-singing it’s probably the most irritating part of this album. His style here is described in the press release as “a fusion of Jeff Buckley and La Dispute’s Jordan Dreyer.” I’d say the former is reasonably accurate (mostly in his beautiful falsetto and vibrato), I don’t hear as much of Jordan Dreyer – thankfully, because the vocals are by far my least favourite part of La Dispute’s music. Even then, I think that the description says something about my reaction to Luke Shields in general; his approach is probably a conscious fusion of one of my favourite vocalists with one of my least favourite. In any case, he definitely seems to be channelling less of Ian Kenny than he was on King Salt (listen to Resolutions or So Sang the Whale and tell me you don’t hear it), and his delivery has an indie twang that’s more apparent than it was on Have/Hold’s preceding work. It’s breathier, more fluid and dynamic, and he’s clearly utilising less of an open sound with more nasally “eee’s” and “awww’s.” I suppose it feels more intimate; he’s clearly trying to milk every last drop of emotion out of the band’s sound, but… yeah, I just preferred the more forward approach he had on King Salt.
I could say the same of the rest of the band. I miss the riffage and the wall of distorted guitars. There’s more space here, but I’m not a fan of the vibe or the melodies that fill it. The music is good but it feels like post-rock that has an agenda, and post-rock can be bloated enough when it’s just elevation for its own sake. Most of the album features sections of delayed, lightly distorted guitars strumming wistful chord progressions before one of the guitars ramps up the tension by adding with post-rock/hardcore style tremolo picking, eventually culminating in more distorted guitars, maybe a short instrumental section – mostly completed with catchy, emotive singing. Have/Hold does their best to change things up and not every song is like this, but everything feels like a variation on that basic formula. It’s okay; it just doesn’t do much for me.
I want to stress that this isn’t a bad album, and if my description of it sounds like the kind of thing that you might like, I’d recommend checking it out. My favourite songs are towards the back end; there are a string of great ones starting from Aurora Australis, Stoic and first single The Bells, probably the only song that hits me as hard as it was intended to. We Are a Ghost Now, You and I, shows Have/Hold evolving from their more alternative-rock roots and veering further into indie and emo, which due to my taste in music is regrettably something I can’t get behind; I just can’t see myself re-visiting this much, other than for a couple of great songs.
You can purchase the album here.