Spirit of Hamlet

Northwest of Hamuretto

Membersd of Minutemen, Acid Mother's Temple and Clang Quartet team up, mixing comedown riffs and blasts of agitation

‘Pillow Song’, the penultimate track on Spirit of Hamlet’s debut album Northwest of Hamuretto, starts with a misfire. Guitars ignite in squealing feedback. The rhythm section fumbles. Snapping together into a wah-wah drenched garage-funk strut, after a couple of verses everything collapses in enervation. While three of the players slide into a wavering come-down riff, one of the guitars doesn’t get the message. Not yet spent, it continues along its merrily wailing way until the track’s end. The quartet of singer-songwriter Benjy Johnson, Kawabata Makoto (from Acid Mothers Temple), Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose, the Stooges) and Scotty Irving (Clang Quartet) can clearly groove, but the sense they’re on the verge of falling apart, that the locked in moments are fleeting and precarious, are where the magic is.

Northwest of Hamuretto was recorded remotely, Irving laying down the drums before passing them to the other musicians to add their parts. It follows two paths, compact blasts of agitation, such as the rant against inherited wealth on opener ‘Strike It Rich’, and longer, more meandering jams. While those shorter tracks are fun, it’s the songs where the four players have space to let loose that really hit. No one steps radically out of their comfort-zone, in many ways it sounds how you’d expect a psych-punk-funk band featuring members of Minutemen and Acid Mothers Temple to. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hear them challenging themselves. The longer tracks sound remarkably live and in the moment despite their remote production. They don’t present an image of styles gelling effortlessly, but the effort, exploration and playful interaction that made the collaboration work.

The cost of everything is rising, the weather seems to have it in for us. When the day-to-day is increasingly synonymous with a struggle to get by, music which sounds like it’s getting ragged in its attempts to hit an escape velocity, whose moments of transcendence feel tarnished by the mire they have to get through, hit hardest. In that way, Spirit of Hamlet’s longer jams elicit a similar headspace to the cracked funk of ‘Maggot Brain’ era Funkadelic, or the sense of desperately grasping for the light that resonates in the tattered psychedelia of Gnod.

It’s there in the guitar chimes shimmering over electrical chatter and martial rhythm section on ‘March of Rain’. The Butthole Surfers-esque ‘Float’, where, over charred chicken-scratch guitars, Johnson switches between spoken-word ruminations on the “green waves of Fukushima” and a soaring chorus of “Hey! I want to float away”. Through their rough edges Spirit of Hamlet don’t drop a pre-packaged dose of perfectly crafted escapism. They document the hopeful strive, the clumsy struggle. The flickers of joy in the smouldering wreckage. Discovering bursts of precarious communal energy can be sustained through the mundane practice of file sharing.

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