I vividly remember playing a gig at The Social, on Pelham Street in Nottingham, in around 2005. The Social is a cool venue. A lot of bands and artists play it on the way up (and on the way back down again) on the indie rock touring treadmill. For me as a young songwriter it felt pretty important to be playing at a place like that. From my memory, I played early on, played ok, was suitably intense and moody and was lifted off the stage (elegantly) feeling pretty good about myself. Then a guy called Tom, playing under the name Her Name is Calla, got up and played a set of such searing, visceral power that I was spellbound, and firmly put in my place as to the relative merits of our respective live performances. I picked up a demo and wore it out. Calla of old were a post-rock band extraordinaire. They did quiet and loud in all the right places, better than most other bands and yet, through a variety of circumstances, never quite reached the level of acclaim of some of their (in my opinion) lesser contemporaries. Who knows why.
As time has gone on, Tom has released a string of increasingly wonderful solo records under the name T E Morris, filled with heart-on-the-sleeve honesty, and startlingly serious vocals. All the while, Calla has carried on in the background. Condor and River, The Heritage and The Quiet Lamb built them an enviable reputation as a creative and daring studio band and a juggernaut of a live experience. With The Navigator, the full potential of the band is finally realised.
This is an album which has “intense” written all over it. The Roots Run Deep has Tom crooning “I’m alone in here now and I’m mixed up” over a skittering beat, strident synths and the kind of blips and bleeps which have characterised the work of contemporaries Ghosting Season. It seems to be a song about lost hopes, maybe romantic, maybe musical. What’s clear is that, after the almost pastoral opening of I Was On the Back of a Nightingale, that this is no standard post-rock album. Morris and his cohorts have stretched themselves, taking in electronica, folk, even some ambient drone-like elements, as on It’s Called Daisy, which leads into the wondrous Ragman Roll.
Elements of the album bring to mind for me the wonderful Josh T Pearson, such as Burial’s “I don’t have choices, only anger” refrain, which you find yourself singing along to, and then wishing that you, and Tom, didn’t wonder if it were actually true. The interplay of vocals, banjos and violin on this track is a particular highlight. another example of how HNiC have taken the post-rock template and built on it in such a way as to entirely stand out from the crowd. This is pastoral post-rock. The kind that might be made if Nick Cave and Nick Drake had had the same parents.
Best of all, when the explosive release does come, as in the coda of the title-track at the album’s midpoint, it is so unexpected and exciting that it feels perfect. That the wall-of-sound is not returned to in the same way throughout the rest of the album is to its credit.
The concluding quartet of It Was Flood, Whale Fall_A Journal, Dreamland and Perfect Prime will, I think, not be bettered by a band of this type this year. Satisfyingly, HNiC do not resort to going out with a bang, instead space is given to beauty and wonder.
This is an album. It is a heavy listen, for sure, but as an exercise in to how to build and pace a whole suite of music in to a coherent whole, it is excellent. This is the kind of music people who are serious about songwriting should listen to. Tom Morris is a singular talent and deserving of much more recognition than he is currently afforded.
So, a folk post-rock album, which sounds a bit like Radiohead, a bit like Josh T Pearson, a bit like depression, a bit like Bon Iver, and a lot like the kind of cross-over success that Her Name is Calla have deserved for so long. Let’s hope it arrives, so that they don’t have to spend four years making the next album.