Friday, February 26, 2010

The hal al Shedad - Textures of Tomorrow

Here is the download: The hal al Shedad - Textures of Tomorrow

So we have confirmation from Benjamin Lukens that he can play the "We're glad Gavin didn't die benefit" at the Drunken Unicorn on March 27. The full lineup will be Rizzudo (thanks brothers Durant!), Some Soviet Station (thanks Jesse, Lee, gang), and The hal al Shedad, playing songs written 15 years ago. It was uncertain if this show would occur, as Benjamin and his family were suddenly moved by the company he works for to Austin, and he wasn't sure if he could take the time to get back to Atlanta for the show. Thankfully he can, but practice is going to be a challenge. Expect the set to be heavy on the early singles and not so much later material, as these songs were very difficult and we don't have the time to work them out.

This was our second album, which was titled after a line I heard in an old Twilight Zone episode, something about reconciling the realities of today with the textures of tomorrow. At the time, we were very determined to make new music that was a break from what was going on around us, but at the same time listening to a lot of Bowie records and some Black Sabbath, so we just wanted to make a grand statement, something epic. It also helped that we wrote most of the album in the Brannon Square movie theater where I worked after closing time, usually between midnight and 5AM when the cleaning crew would come in. The acoustics in that theater was amazing, and we would make these long, dramatic songs with huge dynamic changes just because they sounded so great. We would also play with the lights off, using only the projected movie on the screen with the sound turned off as our background light. I specifically remember writing songs to the first Scream movie as well as Twister, just to give you an idea of the time period when this was happening.

We decided to record the album with David Barbe, who we worked with previously on the "Running and Falling" and Simba European Tour singles. We liked his working style and got along really well with him in the studio. Now he had a new studio called Chase Park Transduction in Athens, and we were excited about recording our new album with a pro engineer at a top of the line studio. Not to say recording the first album in Alap Momin's garage was bad, but it was inspiring to be making a completely new album in such a top notch environment. I believe we were only the second band to record at Chase Park, the first being Jucifer, who I believe just finished recording the "Calling All Cars on the Vegas Strip" album there, and right after us was the great Harvey Milk, who recorded "The Pleaser" at that time. I remember the guys from Harvey Milk coming in while we were recording with copies of the new "Courtesy" album, and talking to David Barbe about how they were about to make the best rock n' roll album of all time the following week, and they pretty much did just that.

Anyhow, we recorded the album over a week in June 1997, with a few additional days for vocals and final mixing. We used some Bowie recording tricks, like placing multiple vocal mics at different distances from Benjamin while he was recording vocals with gates on the mics so when he was singing very softly, the vocals would be very close, and when he was screaming it would open up to the echo of the entire room. Clever. Some synths were used in the end of Sailor Song and Somnopolis, and some different guitars and amps were used in various places, but otherwise it was a pretty simple recording. I originally sang the song Machine Gun with different lyrics, but it clashed so much with the rest of the album, we had Benjamin just write and sing a completely different version. One other piece of trivia about the song Machine Gun - we played it live only once, and that was in Manchester, UK when Ben's bass amp died and we played it as guitar and drum duo only with Ben on lead vocals.

The album was our baby, and something we put a great deal of time and effort to create, and the public's response was underwhelmed to say the least. Many fans of the singles and the first album hated it, as it was too slow and quiet for their tastes. I also remember other bands being pretty bummed as well on our sound, Harriet the Spy once described our set as "floating on a raft in the middle of a lake, with no sight of land in any direction" or something to that affect. We thought it was funny, and they also had gossiped about Benjamin being on his cell phone and combing his hair a lot at our shows, so when we played their house in Kent, Ohio, we made sure Benjamin combed his hair as much as possible in between songs and he also took a cell phone call from Bill Kuehn (Rainer Maria) during the set. They were nice guys, though, and we had some fun over the whole thing.

I think Karl from the blog Tinafts summarized the album best:

The Hal al-Shedad's second album, Textures of Tomorrow, was released jointly by Buddy System and Troubleman Unlimited Records in 1998. I am reasonably certain that my opinion of it was shared by everyone else who cared: It sucked. In comparison to the debut self-titled LP and scattering of 7" releases the band put out, the songs were weak and the production wasn't all that great, either.

Much like the Cardigans' Long Gone Before Daylight, this is an album that, every once in a while, the sheer quality of the band's other releases makes you pull it out and put it on just to see if somehow it magically stopped sucking. Unlike the last Cardigans album (and I imagine time will tell on that one; I imagine it will tell the Cardigans to stop hanging out with Sparklehorse; I also imagine it will tell me that using two extremely similar corruptions of this common phrase in two adjacent posts is a bad idea) however, Textures of Tomorrow has.

In seven years, it seems that this second hal al-Shedad album has aged better than the first; it is probable that its not sounding dated is a function of my not having played the fuck out of it since it came out like the other one, so it has not been as irrevocably associated with a time period, despite the h.S's sound having been essentially one of the main victims of stylistic rip-off of that period. At this point I will refrain from mentioning the suspicious Georgia accent to be found all over a certain Madison band's albums (no offense intended, by the way).

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Textures is necessarily better than the first album; but at this distance in time from their release it's easier to see the quality of the material on the second LP. Despite the name of the album and what I seem to have been suggesting, Textures of Tomorrow isn't the product of a band ahead of its time; it definitely remains firmly within the vein of melodic post-hardcore the group are remembered for working. The gestures toward Black Sabbath were prefigured on the Running And Falling EP, and the occasional distortion-free numbers are fully in line with the era.

Textures of Tomorrow is currently my favorite album of 2005, just ahead of Seam's The Pace Is Glacial, another great album this year that had the misfortune to be released in 1998. And what makes Textures of Tomorrow so great? The hallmarks of any decent hal al-Shedad release: Guitars that jangle for a bit before modulating into a weird drone; whispers that tremble for a bit (way up in the mix) before modulating into an angry yowl; protomathematic basslines; lyrics about fucken boats.

In history, there have been very few bands able to write about seafaring in any capacity without sucking royally. No song illustrates my point better than Christopher Cross's 1980 shitbomb, "Sailing". Essentially only three recording artists have been able to avoid the sailing-song jinx: Sleater-Kinney, Gordon Lightfoot, and Iron Maiden. The hal al-Shedad demonstrate their superiority in this field with the sheer volume of nautically-themed work which they have released: Their first album sports not only "The Art of Map Making, Pt. 1", but "Pt. 2" besides, and Textures of Tomorrow continues the trend with "Sailor's Song". Probably the only other band with such a high ratio of songs-about-unpowered-watercraft-to-albums is the early Beach Boys, and even you Pet Sounds/Smile/Brian-Wilson-Is-God geeks can agree, that stuff sucks.

So yeah, Benjamin had a thing on this album for nautical themes, much as he did in the early days about angels, but I think it was effective for the music being played. We never officially toured under this album, only long weekends and hell rides up to Phildelphia, Detroit, Austin, etc. and head right back to Atlanta. Around this time, Benjamin was deeply involved in the reopening of MJQ in its "new" location, Ed was starting his career as a recording engineer, and I was just trying to graduate college. We eventually wrote an entirely new set of music, which you can find here, and unofficially disbanded in 1999. So that is about everything I can remember concerning the second album, I want to thank Mike Simonetti from Troubleman as well as Mark and Matt Owens from Buddy System for putting this record out, and of course Phil Dwyer for doing the design. Hope to see everyone on the 27th.

Here is the lyric sheet and artwork from the album (click to enlarge):


  1. I take great offense to that dude saying that Christopher Cross "Sailing" is a shitbomb.

  2. so.

    any chance there will be a hal al reunion
    up here in nyc?

    I know a few people who would love that..
    including me.


  3. Yeah, "Sailing" is a classic. This calls Karl's entire opinion into question.

  4. I would think that if you liked "Sailing" by Christopher Cross, then you would like the 2nd hal al Shedad album. There is definitely crossover appeal.