The Dark Water Hymnal
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The Dark Water Hymnal

Austin, Texas, United States | SELF

Austin, Texas, United States | SELF
Band Alternative Rock

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"Austin Sound"

The Dark Water Hymnal have returned, following the surprise of their excellent 2007 8-song self-titled EP, with As Above, So Below. The band’s first proper full length that mixes bedroom folk with William Faulkner, and even with an additional two members joining the ranks, Dark Water Hymnal continues to keep the arrangements sparse, the humble setting for the image-laden lyrical offerings of songwriter Jeremy Ballard. Although they have increased to a quintet, the band hasn’t made any effort to incorporate grand or expansive arrangements, thankfully sticking instead with what works. The songs typically begin with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar that slowly feed in accompaniment from any combination of violin, drums, and glockenspiel.

“Wake Today” begins like the dark hour before the dawn with minor chords and somber violin as Ballard sings, “I could love you again / in the warm 6 a.m. / If I dare to dredge the dark the way that you did.” However, sunshine spills over the horizon as Emily Hurt and Andrea Couch join Ballard in the uplifting chorus, the three singers like a quiet congregation in a humble parish, “Oh, the sound!” Another highlight is the album’s centerpiece “Last Days.” The most dynamic on the album, Ballard shows his vocal range as a booming floor tom drives the rhythm.

Lyrically, As Above, So Below is a triumph. Each song reads like a story rich with powerfully emotive images, often contrasting light against dark, sin and turmoil against hope and redemption. Aspects of the lyrics are often biblical in nature, though conveyed in such a way that they’re not particularly religious or didactic (see Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine). “Blood Sun,” a reworking from the original EP, is macabre and violent, calling to mind the book of Revelations as Ballard slowly sings, “Blindfolded angels swung against the golden dusk / And the branches from which they hung cracked and whistled as they burned.” Likewise, another rehash appropriately follows with “Rhododendron Ruin,” depicting a post-apocalyptic world that could replace a page of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Although the song is as gentle as the warm and comforting back up vocals of Emily Hurt, Ballard sings, “In the dark halls of Heaven / nobody makes a sound / and all God’s children have gone underground,” and the hope is lost somewhere in the dark, murky water.

Although I feel that the pace of the album drags and the songs are often too structurally similar, these “flaws” generally works to the benefit of As Above, So Below. Because of the lyrical prowess of Ballard, the songs come together so perfectly that any kind of deviation would damage the elegant cohesiveness. With the final lyrics of the closing song, “White Clouds Moving Over,” Dark Water Hymnal leaves us with a line that embodies their entire album. Without any instrumentation to distracts us, like a forgotten choir reading from tattered hymnals they sing “The days were made to slowly crumble / and right now is the only hallelujah.” - Austin Sound


"Austin Sound"

The Dark Water Hymnal have returned, following the surprise of their excellent 2007 8-song self-titled EP, with As Above, So Below. The band’s first proper full length that mixes bedroom folk with William Faulkner, and even with an additional two members joining the ranks, Dark Water Hymnal continues to keep the arrangements sparse, the humble setting for the image-laden lyrical offerings of songwriter Jeremy Ballard. Although they have increased to a quintet, the band hasn’t made any effort to incorporate grand or expansive arrangements, thankfully sticking instead with what works. The songs typically begin with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar that slowly feed in accompaniment from any combination of violin, drums, and glockenspiel.

“Wake Today” begins like the dark hour before the dawn with minor chords and somber violin as Ballard sings, “I could love you again / in the warm 6 a.m. / If I dare to dredge the dark the way that you did.” However, sunshine spills over the horizon as Emily Hurt and Andrea Couch join Ballard in the uplifting chorus, the three singers like a quiet congregation in a humble parish, “Oh, the sound!” Another highlight is the album’s centerpiece “Last Days.” The most dynamic on the album, Ballard shows his vocal range as a booming floor tom drives the rhythm.

Lyrically, As Above, So Below is a triumph. Each song reads like a story rich with powerfully emotive images, often contrasting light against dark, sin and turmoil against hope and redemption. Aspects of the lyrics are often biblical in nature, though conveyed in such a way that they’re not particularly religious or didactic (see Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine). “Blood Sun,” a reworking from the original EP, is macabre and violent, calling to mind the book of Revelations as Ballard slowly sings, “Blindfolded angels swung against the golden dusk / And the branches from which they hung cracked and whistled as they burned.” Likewise, another rehash appropriately follows with “Rhododendron Ruin,” depicting a post-apocalyptic world that could replace a page of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Although the song is as gentle as the warm and comforting back up vocals of Emily Hurt, Ballard sings, “In the dark halls of Heaven / nobody makes a sound / and all God’s children have gone underground,” and the hope is lost somewhere in the dark, murky water.

Although I feel that the pace of the album drags and the songs are often too structurally similar, these “flaws” generally works to the benefit of As Above, So Below. Because of the lyrical prowess of Ballard, the songs come together so perfectly that any kind of deviation would damage the elegant cohesiveness. With the final lyrics of the closing song, “White Clouds Moving Over,” Dark Water Hymnal leaves us with a line that embodies their entire album. Without any instrumentation to distracts us, like a forgotten choir reading from tattered hymnals they sing “The days were made to slowly crumble / and right now is the only hallelujah.” - Austin Sound


"The Austin Chronicle"

The evolution from the Dark Water Hymnal's eponymous 2007 EP to first LP As Above, So Below is one of maturity and restraint, comfort woven through the smooth harmonies of Jeremy Ballard and Emily Hurt. As soon as Ballard's deep, opiatic vox meets the plucked sigh of Andrea Couch's violin on opener "Furrows," spark becomes candlelight. Despite the darkness, As Above is far from depressive (save for the minor chords of "Blood Sun"). "Wake Today" begins slow and easy only to break out in a joyous revival, and "Sophia" visits Django Reinhardt at a Dust Bowl carnival. Ballard's a storyteller, each song having a through line of emotional range. Simplicity can breed ennui, but with little more than acoustic guitar, snare drum, and Couch's strings, As Above exudes a refreshing purity. When voices rejoice on "Unending Through the Dark" and closer "White Clouds Moving Over," the healing begins. - The Austin Chronicle


Discography

The Dark Water Hymnal EP
2007

As Above, So Below LP
2009

Collapse The Structure
2011

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Bio

In 2007, the Dark Water Hymnal quietly released a self-titled EP to a handful of independent record stores in Austin, TX. The instrumentation was stark, an occasional violin suspended over acoustic guitar, but the lyrics wove a lush, resonant narrative. The album eventually caught the attention of The Austin Chronicle who praised its “ominous beauty” and named it “among the year’s best folk debuts.”

Over the next two years, the band added members and broadened the sound, preserving the intimacy and restraint of the EP while shading in new depth. Their first full-length, As Above, So Below, drew humbling comparisons to Iron & Wine, Will Oldham and Sufjan Stevens as well as literary icons Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner. This time, The Austin Chronicle lauded it as “exuding a refreshing purity” with “each song having a thorough line of emotional range,” while Austin Sound commended the record for its “lyrical prowess,” calling it a “triumph.”

In January, the band will release their second full-length, Collapse the Structure. The lineup has changed again slightly, but the growth of the band’s sound in such a short time is significant. Fans of the group’s live show will recognize the insistence and directness that has earned them livelier, though no less humbling comparisons to contemporaries such as the Rural Alberta Advantage, Arcade Fire and the National. Regional touring is planned for the fall of 2010, and a short Midwest and Northeast tour is in the works for 2011.

Collapse The Structure:

Written over the course of six months and recorded in just two days, Collapse the Structure captures the restless intensity of an inspired burst of songwriting. The stillness in the firmament that marked the previous two records has given way to the breaking of a new day. The shift is one of luminosity and vibrancy, of urgency and immediacy. Shouted melodies glide over charging rhythms and dense, arcing arrangements. All the lights are on now, some so bright they seem on the verge of shattering.

Collapse the Structure was recorded by Ted Smith and mixed and mastered by Erik Wofford (Black Angels, Explosions in the Sky, Okkervil River) at Cacophony Recorders. Members of One Hundred Flowers and Polar Optimist lend their voices to a backing choir on two tracks, “Center of the Spark” and “Black Confetti.”