H Hawkline (29 year old Huw Gwynfryn Evans) may claim Richard Brautigan and Ram-era Paul McCartney as influences for his latest (and first on Heavenly Recordings) album due out 31 January, but just a few seconds’ listen reveals it would fit just as well on any number of compilations of late 60s Los Angeles psychedelia as it might on C86. It’s no wonder, then, that the album was recorded in Los Angeles, the city to which Evans relocated from his native Wales in 2013, with longtime collaborator Cate le Bon producing.
The sun-steeped pop history of the city is made well apparent on many of the tracks; Evans tends toward that same sound but misses the mark, which is to his credit. It would be easy for me to say that if you were finding yourself inexplicably over the past few months missing early of Montreal but also having recently become obsessed with the eponymous album released by The Fool (produced by The Hollies’ Graham Nash), you might find this suits your mood, or if you often wish Felt’s mysterious Lawrence wrote lyrics for The United States of America.
The playfulness hinted at in his own words and earlier releases forms an intrinsic part of the album from the very first track, Sticky Slithers. The ostinato guitar line forms a solid if not playful foundation- it’s a simple enough construction which allows the lyrics to unfurl. Here the comparison to Ram gains traction but cannot truly be endorsed; true, Hawkline strings together near-nonsensical lyrics in service of a melody but does so with a level of literacy and logic. The song and the album which it opens have the charm and immediacy of those on the work cited but maintain a sense of the sardonic and surrealism beyond surrealism’s sake.
Further along, Ringfinger provides a west coast take on Jonathan Richman’s Roadrunner (ironically focusing on running rather than driving), and Dirty Dreams‘ spectral chorus and heavier guitars could secure its place on any congeries of lost late 60s strivings somewhere between psychedelia and something darker. Moddion veers between the poetic interludes of The Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake and a surfier version of The Sonics’ The Witch.
The point I am making is not that Hawkline has invented something entirely new but that he has so saturated himself with his new surroundings and their history as well as retained an impressive lexicon of British lo fi to the effect that much of what he was grasping at on earlier releases has become more concrete. For example, the imagined anecdote form explored on 2012’s EP Too Young to Run is given a more lush landscape upon which its events may unfold through the LP format and more esoteric instrumentation on songs like Rainy Summer or Spooky Dog.
Moreover to reference something like C86 or Felt is shorthand for lo-fi but also references the specific tendency of twee pop to emulate any of a number of mid-60s California bands (The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield were favorites amongst many of the groups), so to take these references back to the site of their origin forms a thirdhand translation. Not quite a product of either source, it can’t help but beget a bit of absurdity, or, as Hawkline has called it in his own words, ‘strange pop.’