Darren Hanlon has been a blip on my radar for some time now, but I have to admit that until today I never really sat down to listen to his music thoroughly. And as I sat back this afternoon for a few minutes and played Hanlon’s latest album for some background noise during lunch, I was absorbed right into it, to the point that it was all I paid attention to. “I Will Love You At All” (16 July 2010 in Australia, 21 September 2010 in the USA), his fourth studio offering, is in many ways the antithesis of what has been streaming through the indie world. More acoustic than electric, more plainspoken than tongue-in-cheek (yet full of metaphors and similes), this is a viscerally powerful collection of narrative songs that whirl you around the existence of one man. Lyrically, what I like the most about the songs is their mundanity – and I mean this is the best way possible. There are so many moments on this album that it is about the obvious, the understated, the never-stated, and often overlooked by other musicians and poets. The music is solid, the lyrics superior – this is a combination that may wow you, if you allow yourself to sit back and feel the listening experience.
Opening with beautiful strumming (a very big plus in my book), “Butterfly Bones” sports out metered, intricate lyrics. Both the rhythm and lead guitar arrangements are some of the most beautiful I’ve heard this year so far. The strength of his narrative prowess comes in “Scenes From A Separation.” Breaking-up has never sounded so subtly beautiful, as Hanlon sings, “We were together forever, but then again what the hell does that mean?” But the most powerful line in the song comes right at the end, when he sings, “I wouldn’t trade one heartbroken minute for one year of dull happiness.” And this is the universal truth that rarely gets stated; we take the risk of heartbreak for happiness, rather than living lonely in “dull” life. This is followed by the lead single, “All These Things.” The obvious single on the collection; poppy and feel good, with an easy melody to follow. Where it belies the depth of the rest of the album, this is no throwaway single either. Later in the album, you come across “Buy Me Presents,” which closing, humorous line really stuck with me: “It’s the thought that matters most, so don’t be dense, and buy me presents.”
I would be remiss if I did not mention in depth the epic, “House.” As anyone who knows me, I favor these long, well-developed songs. Most epics really fall short, because as you listen you feel the length of the song, and you are left wondering when the hell it is going to end already. But not “House,” which is a narrative that many people can relate to. The song is about retracing and reflecting on the past, specifically a love affair. So Hanlon returns to “..the place we rented when you were still mine.” He thinks of a few schemes to ring the bell, and though he realizes that “some stones are best left unturned,” he goes forth with his plan and rings the bell. “The house gave an echo from inside its belly, sounds I recalled from days I left my key…” When the door opens he makes an excuse about coming for mail that has been unclaimed. This is when he notices that the “wall paper’s gone, now the wall is painted green.” It may be the same house, but the changes are obvious – a metaphor of how things change and there is nothing you can do about it, but accept it. And he runs, “’til I ran out of running, I tried to go faster than what I just seen.” Eventually, he falls, breathless, looking as if he had “just come through Halloween.” The final masque broken, the final acceptance – as he leaves the house fast, he also moves on from the past. And he realizes that some memories are “best if they are left in a place you can’t find them.”
And again, another album to raise that proverbial bar this year. Darren Hanlon’s “I Will Love You At All” is a solid, introspective album, which will have you thinking and feeling, though devoid of doom and gloom. Highly poetic, the album will tickle the fancy of any dreamer and yet appeal to those that love to brood. (And I can’t resist posing this question: Best album out of Australia this year so far?)
1. Butterfly Bones
2. Modern History
3. Scenes From A Separation
4. All These Things
6. If Only My Heart Were Made Of Stone
7. Folk Insomnia
9. Buy Me Presents
10. What Can We Say?
Keep up with Darren Hanlon at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Here is Hanlon’s video for “All These Things” from the MGMAUSTRALIA YouTube Channel.