The world is replete with supposedly sexy records. From bouncing bass lines to glossy packaging, all wrapped up with a neat, never quite ambiguous innuendo. Sexy maybe. Or maybe not. Beyond the commodification of sex, it takes a special touch, a certain emotional intelligence to craft something truly sensual and it is only with such sensuality that the sexual is really touched upon. In this sense, there is nothing quite as unsexy as explication. The whisper, the hint, the glimpse; it is in these that the properly sexy, the sensual, the alluring consists. What is sexy is a suggestion, not a promise and certainly not an intent made explicit. To say too much, to show too much, can only detract. This is why so much pop music – big, bold, brassy, all cheap and cheerful and in your face – is not in the least bit sexy. This is why so much music which thinks itself sexy, which self-consciously, and thus explicitly, foregrounds its apparent sexiness, is destined to fail. It is destined to fail for the simple reason that it attempts to lay bare what cannot be laid bare. While there is always something communicative about sex, sex itself is always the failure of communication. Sex is what cannot be spoken. Not because of any censorship or cultural injunction, but simply because it is what defies our attempts to articulate it to any meaning. Sex is senseless while, at the same time, it incessantly demands that sense be made of it. To explicate the sexual then, whether through some sort of quasi-scientific discourse or through adolescent unabashedness, is always, necessarily, to miss the point. Few instances of music really seem to grasp the fact of this impossibility. Although the censorship of the past worked to ensure the dominance of implication, the subtlety of ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’, let’s face it, was never really that subtle. Fun though it may have been, its sexiness was always a little thin. To discover music which captures the allure, the depth and the impossibility of the truly sensuously sexual is rare. This is something Tom Lecky, the man who becomes Hallock Hill, seems to understand. In this sense, he makes deeply sexy music.
This double lp brings together two previous recordings, 2011’s The Union and 2012’s A Hem of Evening, giving each a first outing on vinyl and, in the process, drawing them into a single package. Tom Lecky is a literary man, a point illustrated by the inclusion of a book of poetry with the lp. There are, however, curiously, no words on the outer-sleeve; nothing to claim authorship and no title. The cover art, erupting water, is left, as a first encounter, to speak alone. You are drawn into the image, the sensuousness of the troubled water folding in on itself. Its meaning does not announce itself but, precisely because of the lack of guiding text, it begs interpretation. When the needle touches down and the music begins, the gentle opening notes of ‘I Began to Lose Myself Within a Wonder’ accord quite perfectly with the sensuousness of the cover image, the paradoxical calm of movement stilled. It makes perfect sense but you are not quite sure what sense it makes.
The Union is largely composed of layered guitars, juxtaposing acoustic and treated sounds. The effect is very much what the title proposes; a union. The various guitars, or various moments of guitar, interweave and dance around each other. They taunt, collide and retreat. This is union not as the state of being one but union as process, as coming together and never quite completing. This is union in the sense of sexual union, the necessity of the missed encounter, the perfection of failure. Don’t be mistaken here, the playing on The Union is exquisite but what raises it far above the mass of guitar albums, the rash of Takomages seemingly on offer, is the intelligent poise. It is one thing to grasp the importance of subtlety and suggestion over explication, it is another entirely to be able to depict so delicately the very impossibility which threatens one’s art. Few artists sail this close to the edge and pull away so majestically. The result is a record which, without grandeur, piques your desire, leaving you with little choice but to return again and again.
Like The Union, A Hem of Evening is a solo guitar record and could be taken very much as part of a continuum with the first disc. The two, however, appear to have delicately distinct concerns. Where The Union charts the encounter of never conjoining layers, painting a picture of union without unity, A Hem of Evening circumscribes the moment of union itself, speaking of anticipation, of the comfort of proximity. What is a hem but an edge, turned up, sutured to itself but all the same touching on a void beyond itself? A hem of evening might be the ushering in of night, that quiet moment of solitude as your lover slumbers nearby, there but not quite there, those last moments of wakefulness, together and alone, at one and the same time. A hem of evening is the space between, thus marking both the absence and presence of the other, of the lover. Tonally, it is a warmer, a softer record than the first. It caresses and comforts. It is both calm and calming but never dull. This is no musical wallpaper. The compositions, all instrumental, are full of turns and intrigue. It invites you into its folds and contours, invites you to trace its meanderings, to follow without ever quite being sure to where you are journeying.
In bringing these two separately released recordings together as single package, we are presented with two takes on the same theme, a complimentary parallax, if you like. The music on both discs is composed of a sensuality which is, paradoxically, immediate and deferred. Lured by the warm tonality, Hallock Hill’s music is all too easy to fall into but, once immersed, you discover that it is never straightforward, never predictable. In The Union you will find frictions and sharp edges among the gentle turns. A Hem of Evening is a gentler, more overtly seductive affair but carries with it a sense of longing too which adds dimension and punch. The upshot, taken together, is a record which will continue to tug at you, which insists on your attention, your engagement. It is a record to which you might want to make something of a commitment. It is confounding, thought provoking and will enrich your life. It is a record you might find yourself loving, if never quite fully grasping.
[There is a footnote to be made here. We should perhaps remember that there is a third Hallock Hill record. There He Unforeseen, Lecky’s second CD of 2011, might be understood as the repressed third between these two. There He Unforeseen is a more difficult record. It paints a darker picture, with greater discord. And yet, in so doing it seems the essential other to this package. If The Union paints the impossibility of intimacy and A Hem of Evening paints the intimacy at the heart of this impossibility, then There He Unforeseen reminds us that none of this is ever easy. Seek it out. I imagine you will turn to it less than these two but you may find you will need it nonetheless.]