Hal - Hal

If it wasn't for the quality of the songwriting displayed on their debut album, it would be near on impossible to take Hal seriously. The first time Designer Magazine witnessed Hal was supporting Starsailor on their last major UK tour. Whereas Starsailor had found an inner strength and bolstered up from those fragile early shows, with Hal it was like being transported back in the Tardis to the 70s with Donny Osmond and the terminally uncool.

The self-titled album is a journey through West Coast pop. For the uninitiated imagine the Thrills with memorable choruses and without the c*nty Conor Deasy for a frontman. The influences are glaring obvious after just 30 seconds with Steely Dan, The Beach Boys and, on the ballads, Bread steeped in the foundations of this record from beginning to end. Bizarrely enough the falsetto of vocalist Dave Allen gives the album a strangely contemporary feel aligning itself with the pitch shifting samples of a Kanye West production.

"Play The Hits" is the Beach Boys through and through with a melody stolen direct from "Sloop B John" and the lyrical innocence of Brian Wilson infused. "Take a look at those guys when they play the hits on the radio. And the pretty young girls swing their hips on the television show" sings Allen as if he's opened up his eyes for the very first time and is full of wonderment at the simplicity's of life. "Keep Love As Your Golden Rule" is the song that David Gates still hasn't wrote, a love song which can't help but make an impact due to it's endearing poetical passages and lush vocal harmonies. "I Sat Down", a glorious pop song again influenced by Brian Wilson, but more so the inventive use of pairing up instruments to create fresh and original sounds rather than trying the tested formulas. Steel guitar's underpin harps and piano's intertwining while the vocals ride over the top keeping the whole song together. "Slow Down (You've Got A Friend)" is similar, not just because of the song title, to Carole King's style of songwriting with the message being more often the inspiration than the actual melody.

"Hal" is an album which in many ways shouldn't work, but by the end of it Dave Allen's vocals have won you over and any notion of cool had gone out of the window. If it can warm your heart in cold and rainy blighty, imagine how it will feel when the sun shines through over the Summer months.

Alex McCann

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