Saturday, January 6, 2018

Hem's Solemn Good-bye: Departure And Farewell

The Good: Amazing vocals, Engaging sound for most of the tracks, Decent lyrics
The Bad: SHORT, Largely forgettable and familiar
The Basics: Hem's (apparent) final full album, Departure And Farewell delivers a true, masterful gem for one track, but little else for the rest.

As 2018 picks up, I find myself catching up on many things that have slipped by the wayside the last few weeks, months . . . and in the case of music, years. I went looking last night for an album that was supposed to be released in late 2016, only to discover it remains unreleased even now. That put me on a search for music from some of my favorite musical artists and it was then that I discovered Hem's Departure And Farewell. The album's name instantly got me down, figuring that it meant that Hem had dissolved and, despite the release of a single subsequent EP, that appears to be true. Hem was a group I discovered for myself during the end of my first marriage and the time I spent afterward putting my life back together. The idea that the band had fallen apart made me sad, but I eagerly picked up Departure And Farewell and put it into high rotation.

In some ways, Departure And Farewell is a fitting conclusion to the Hem discography in that the bulk of the album is familiar, melancholy and disturbingly indistinct. The thirteen song, 37:05 long album, is very much a Hem album, but - despite a decent start - it hits its high ridiculously fast and never quite comes back from it. In fact, that made it hard for me to want to write much about Departure And Farewell; Hem fans might enjoy the album simply for a few new songs with Sally Ellyson's amazing voice and the quality of the lyrics. But, the truth is, Departure And Farewell is very much a one-hit wonder album.

Departure And Farewell features songs about endings, delivered in Sally Ellyson's amazing soprano voice. Ellyson sings clearly and the album continues to present better-than-average lyrics written by the band.

But, like a one-hit wonder who hits with a great single, but can't land a second track on the radio, Departure And Farewell fumbles after the second track. "Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing" is an absolutely amazing song. The song progresses through life stages with the child's game of holding one's breath near a cemetery as a metaphor. The progression from childhood to loss to mourning is a slice of true, agonizing, musical genius. The song is simple and smart, the backing instrumentation is more complicated than most of Hem's music and it hints at all of the potential Hem had and (more often than not) successfully executed. "Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing" is a clever, adult song that is expertly delivered and has a strange inability to be marketed today on the radio.

Within the context of Departure And Farewell, "Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing" shines so brightly that the eleven songs that follow it seem simplistic and unmemorable by contrast. The result is a mellow and low good-bye from Hem, which is in some ways fitting for the band that never found its mainstream audience.

For other Hem works, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Rabbit Songs
Birds And Beasts And Flowers (EP with Autumn Defense)
No Word From Tom
Funnel Cloud
Twelfth Night Soundtrack


Check out how this album stacks up against other music I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the albums are organized from best to worst!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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