Richard Hawley

Standing At The Sky's Edge

Such has been Richard Hawley’s dedication to his hometown over the course of five studio albums that it’s a wonder that he actually knows what lies beyond the Steel City’s seven hills. Coles Corner, Truelove’s Gutter and Lady’s Bridge have all referenced Sheffield in their titles. In this respect, Standing At The Sky’s Edge is no different. Yet what Hawley lacks in titular surprise he more than makes up for with the sonic dish that’s served up here; this is an album that looks more to the cosmos for aural inspiration rather than the surroundings of the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire.

Though Hawley’s rich and melancholic baritone remains firmly in place, the orchestrations and lush sweeps that have rooted his previous efforts are replaced by overdriven guitars, wah-wah solos, drones and a righteous sense of anger, fueled by a coalition government completely out of touch with the people it counts on for support. A heady brew, to be sure – but the juxtaposition of psychedelic musical explorations and the problems of ordinary people placed under immense pressure by factors well beyond their control makes for Hawley’s most compelling musical statement yet.

The creeping dread of the drones and violin scrapes that usher in explosive electrical raga ‘She Brings The Light’ beguile and excite in equal measure. This is Hawley as far from his comfort zone as imaginable – the cigarettes that are a permanent fixture between his lips are apparantly replaced by something a tad more more exotic and, err, herbal, while guitars let rip in snarling waves.

Hawley doesn’t let up as he introduces the title track with atmospherics that can only spell trouble. A distant and thematic relative of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin”, ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ takes a dispassionate view of desperate people – the protagonists include a murderer and a prostitute – doing what they can to keep theirs heads above water in the face of insurmountable odds. None of the subjects here are proud of their actions, but their survival is at stake, and Hawley relates their tales as a compelling reportage backed with incredible sonic sweeps. This is the music Jason Pierce should be making – at least, if he wasn’t still fixated on the poppy and comic book readings of Christianity.

‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’ and the warming romance of ‘Seek It’ find Hawley treading familiar territory, as his trademark croon and keen melodic sense offer a fine counterpoint to the lyrical and musical adventurism that beats at the heart of this fine album. Indeed, by coming from two very different places – cosmic music born of the heavens that reaches for the stars, sat alongside philosophical musings firmly rooted in the mundane activities of real life – in Standing At The Sky’s Edge Richard Hawley has forged his most fully realised and heartfelt collection of music to date. This requires your urgent attention.

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