(Talkshow Records, out Fri 19 Oct 2018)
Hollow Hand (aka Max Kinghorn-Mills) is a lot less “out there” than he’s pitched to be. The album cover promises mystic freakery, the promotional blurb promises Soft Machine, Super Furry Animals and Syd Barrett. The musical contents of Star Chamber are altogether less challenging and more conventional.
Things get off to an underwhelming start. Ancestral Lands blends in some subtle brass backing, but production, by Pan Andrs & Atlas Shrugs leaves it sounding like a demo, the acoustic guitar sounding distant, scratchy and echoey. This could be an intentional false start/misdirection, if what followed weren’t also from the same ballpark.
The dominant 60s feel to this isn’t prog or psychadelia, it’s Merseybeat. Little riffs ring and chime, backing vocals are lah-lahs and aah-aahs and ooh-oohs, major keys abound. It gives the album an obvious melodic appeal, but it’s neither direct and persistent enough to succeed on that alone, nor able to wrongfoot us by going off piste into weirder musical territory. The production cleans itself up but remains flat and shallow. The melodies aren’t allowed to balloon like they could.
Blackberry Wine skips along merrily and is perhaps the album’s most instant moment. A World Outside‘s intro pleasingly throws back to the theme tunes of Bananaman and The Wombles. Two Of Us almost breaks into one of Richard Thompson’s Fairport-era solos. The album’s definitely not without its moments.
It’s rarely more than pleasant though. The rest of Two Of Us is Dodgy-style Britpop. Milestone taps its toes and nods it head as it works up to a minor wig-out. For its chorus, Made Up My Mind takes us to the mid-70s for some AOR. You wouldn’t turn the radio off, but you wouldn’t tweet the station to find out what it was.
Part of the issue is that some of the album’s stylistic elements require much lusher arrangements than can be found in the bedroom set-up available here. Closer Land of the Free is a well-chosen slow-builder and begins to break free of these constraints, but even then, is crying out for something richer to max out those harmonies. It’s hard to achieve California widescreen from a Brighton bedroom, although this song is where a grand vision becomes closest to being realised.