Although expensive digital effects and trickery used to only be available to only those with a lot of money, I'm one of those people who is happy that it's been brought down in price and made available to the masses. On one hand, you have thousands of kids in their bedrooms churning out crappy acid techno with pre-packaged sounds on hacked hardware, but on the other hand you have artists who wanted to experiment in that realm being able to do so with little more than a couple instruments, a microphone, and a computer. Interestingly enough that very formula seems to be the one that Howard Hello has employed on their self-titled debut.
Although their setup might be a fair amount more elaborate than I just described (and it probably is), this is a group that makes the most with a little bit of sound and some subtle touches. Over the course of 7 tracks and about 36 minutes, the group mixes organic sounds with digital trickery for something that inhabits the same solar system as Greg Davis' Arbor release without being too similar. Whereas (for the most part) Davis starts with little bits of organic and skewers them into something 75% digital, Howard Hello are maybe 75% organic and the rest digital. Laptop folk, two adjacent planets, etc.
The disc opens up with some finger picked guitar that sounds downright Appalachian before another melody comes in under it. Eventually, the second melody starts twitching and glitching out, and before you know it, it's been broken into minute digital shards at the end, as a field recording fades in. Arriving just as quickly is the second track, in which layers of beautiful vocals by Wendy Allen drift over shimmering guitar cutups. Both tracks are quick and fairly simple, but catch your ear like a good, 'traditional' folk song.
After a somewhat darker track (with vocals by Marty Anderson and slow backwards sounds), the album again gets effervescent again. "America" begins with a guitar loop that sounds like something off an old Michael Brooks (who invented the "infinite guitar" and recorded on 4AD in the early 90s) before it loops another sample underneath at twice the speed and then slowly adds even more layers to culminate in a shimmering haze and more ethereal vocals by Allen. After two more, subtle hash-ups, the album closes out with the 10-minute epic of "Hello." Again building from a simple guitar melody, the track makes a lovely fluid arc into almost watery digital sounds at the end and after it's over, the album has simply gone by too quickly. As the album doesn't have any rhythms to speak of, it's largely atmospheric, and works in ways similar to groups like Labradford (who also seem to have in common short album-length times). Very enjoyable, I want more.