22 Oct 2019
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Simon Hirst - Album Review: Feet of God

02 Apr 2018 // A review by Trevor Faville

This is not quite the first release from Hamilton based artist Simon Hirst. Preceding Feet of God have been two EP’s, Shining in Silver from 2017, and the online-only The Cats Out of the Bag which as well as containing alternative versions of some of the Feet of God tracks, functions as quite an important companion piece. This man is well known to audiences around the “Tron as a high profile local solo performer and this breadth of experience gives his first full length release a powerful sense of maturity and confidence.

The self-assurance comes through firstly in terms of melody, and this is probably Hirst’s strongest element in both his song writing and live work. It is immediately apparent from opening track Arohanui that here is someone who can combine an ability to craft a quality melodic line with the technical and musical ability to deliver it to maximum emotional effect. This melodic sensibility doesn’t waver at any point through this album. It’s a rare combination, and one that he shares with Neil Finn from late-period Enz through the early 90’s Crowded House. This is a musical touchstone that is impossible to ignore simply because like Finn, Hirst writes songs that, if they were stripped down to melody, harmony and timbre, would lose no impact at all.

This is not to play down the next point which is the attention to detail in the arrangements and structure. This is handled throughout with intelligence and skill, from the deft touches of instrumentation and timbre (listen to the ‘just-so’ lead guitar lines in Signs and Wonders and the subtle keys/ambient/guitar pad in the background of There She Goes) to the musically sensitive production and mixing. One notes the playing and arranging input of Eddie Rayner which does extend that line of influence even further into Split Enz territory. There is no way that this can ever really be a bad thing- witness his arrangement on the version of Through the Wall of Light (Orchestral Version) on The Cats out of The Bag. It's that good, easily first choice (to these these ears) for standout song of this collection. It's the moment when arrangement, melody and delivery combine to maximum effect.

One needs to reiterate the maturity in this music, which may well date it to an older demographic in terms of how the songs a structured and arranged- this is not dancing music, nor ‘track and hook’ Max Martin ‘ultra-contemporary’ pop. The choruses go dynamically up for the lift, not down for the breakdown, and there is none of that tiresome post-modern irony either. In future work care will need to be taken to make sure that the tempos, instrumentation and timbres don’t make the listening too easy, and at times the relaxed mellow/melancholy vibe overall cries out for more variation, too.

What Mr Hirst has done, though, is played to his strengths. He has taken ownership of both his influences and experience for this recording. The end result might perhaps hark back to another era of song writing, but this is certainly not any sort of “stylistic tourism”. He places himself there quite clearly and apologetically, and to commanding effect.


Review written by Trevor Faville

 

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