Hammock | Mysterium
Read the press release below:
On August 25, the polymath Nashville duo Hammock return with Mysterium, the band’s eighth full-length and its first since scoring the New Yorker-approved film “Columbus.”
Mysterium is a requiem, in both tone and scope, elegantly merging the duo’s modern classical and ambient music instincts with choral flourishes inspired by the Nikolaï Korniev, Arvo Pärt, and Morten Lauridsen. Piercingly solemn yet hopeful, the record is of a piece with recent collections by Max Richter and Jóhann Jóhannsson, and it was produced with a crosscontinental team that included the Berlin mix engineer Francesco Donadello (Winged Victory for the Sullen, Ólafur Arnalds), the Hamburg film orchestrator Roman Vinuesa (“Iris,” “Umrika”), and the Nashville string orchestrator Bobby Shin (Dolly Parton, Trey Anastasio). Mysterium, which features the 42-member Budapest Art Choir, was composed as memorial to Clark Kern, a son-like figure to Hammock co-founder Marc Byrd who died in 2016 from the aggressive tumor strain NF2.
Since the band’s founding in 2003, when Byrd and Thompson began collaborating on sound collages to escape the routine of Nashville’s work-a-day songwriting circles, Hammock have released a litany of acclaimed full-lengths, singles, EPs, and ad hoc collaborations, and they’ve shared the stage with experimental totems like Stars of the Lid. The duo’s work has traced across modern classical, ambient, shoegaze, and post-rock, resulting in an oeuvre that’s as varied as it is incomparable. Hammock songs have been licensed for television, film, and stage productions, and the band has been celebrated by Ricky Gervais, The Wire, NPR, Pitchfork, the BBC, and The Atlantic.
With Mysterium, the duo re-cultivated the approach they took on 2013’s elegiac Oblivion Hymns, choosing this time to collaborate with Donadello and Vinuesa, who’ve been involved with the most visible modern classical music being made today. Hammock’s return to a deeply reverent palette, steeped in sacred traditions, was in part a subconscious reaction to the shoegazing, poporiented bombast of 2016’s Everything and Nothing — Byrd and Thompson see their work as a continuum of myriad musical interests, which is why Hammock listeners are as likely to sense a devotion to the Cure’s liquid post-punk motifs as they are the Los Angeles Master Chorale. But the death of Byrd’s nephew, which fell within days of Everything’s release, ultimately set Mysterium in motion.
In his grief, and the grief he experienced alongside his sister’s family, Byrd turned to books and silence, which he says became “like music” for him. He read John Cage, Mark Rothko, Thomas Merton, and Francis Weller. He revisited Rilke, who is “always, always in the background,” Byrd says. Eventually, in the moments he sensed that music wouldn’t shatter him, Byrd turned to choral works by Korniev, Pärt, and Lauridsen, whose piece Lux Aeterna (“eternal light”) imbued a sense of searching in Byrd. It was, to him, the sound of making peace with torment, the “only kind of music that didn’t make me sad,” Byrd says.
Byrd and Thompson write prolifically, and they’d already composed a series of droning minimalist pieces by the time Everything and Nothing arrived in April 2016. Even so, an entirely different collection of songs cohered in the wake of Clark’s passing. The compositions were deeply permeated with loss, yet tinged with joy, and a vision emerged for the follow-up to Everything and Nothing that felt inevitable and right: a memorial for Clark that invited listeners to consider the ways in which the departed continue to trace upon our lives.
“We were writing a requiem almost in spite of ourselves,” Thompson says.
The resulting LP, Mysterium, is Hammock’s most timeless and serene. Cascading strings and choral smears drift atop crystalline guitar passages, suggesting both grandeur and impermanence. A clear-eyed sense of the sacred prevails — of seeking and resting in beatific places, of groundedness mixed with wonder — as does an acceptance of devastation. Mysterium isn’t prescriptive, and it has no agenda. But its undercurrent suggests making peace with the losses that takes us farthest from it, of facing suffering with something approaching equanimity.
Mysterium arrives on the band’s label Hammock Music on August 25. In addition to the contributions of Bobby Shin, Francesco Donadello, and Roman Vinuesa, Byrd and Thompson collaborated with Slow Meadow’s Matt Kidd to write “When the Body Breaks,” and Kidd played all piano parts on Mysterium. Longtime Hammock collaborator Matt Slocum played cello on “This is Not Enough (Epilogue),” which also features drums and percussion by Ken Lewis. The track, Mysterium’s closer, was mixed by Peter Katis (The National, Interpol).
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