There are a lot of things about everyday domestic life that we take for granted. With their album At Home With My Candles, Half Shadow is looking deeper into the ordinary to consider the utter mysticism and unseen worlds that are all around us. While looking at the strangeness of domestic life, the album furthers the intimate poetics of the band’s sound into something more expansive, while retaining the tenderness.
Moving through folk tones to anthemic chants and primal pop movements, the album blends both genres and perceptions of the world around us. Through this album, the continued unfurling of Jesse Carsten’s musical style dances around our senses. While this moniker has been used for the better part of a decade to showcase his enigmatic music, the first full LP was released in 2019 and there has been no going back since then.
The album opens with ‘Inn of the Dawn Horse’ which was inspired by the famous self-portrait by Leonora Carrington. The sounds of nature and human movement draw you into the track which splashes with a sonic representation of the surrealism of the inspiring painting. The music has a spin and twirl to it that makes you want to move to the sound. The vocals have a light echo to them as they haze over the swirl of the drums. The horns that rise up add a new dimension to the track. It is a rather eclectic mixture of sounds that come together in the track for a captivating listening experience. The lyrics have a modern poetic edge to them as they bring dreamy and non-linear thoughts and considerations to the song. The steady movement of the vocals keeps you hooked to the track while the music swirls around you.
‘Moonless (Unmoored)’ moves away from the surrealism of the opening track for a steadier folk flow. The acoustic guitar brings an intimate feeling to the track while the vocals have an honest and authentic edge. As the guitar floats through the soundscape like a lazy feather drifting on the wind, the lyrics bring a contrast of feelings and thoughts. Through the lyrics, you are drawn into a lethargic contemplation of the infinite and the limited interiors of the world. These are two very different concepts that are played against each other, but it works so perfectly with the melody. As the track progresses, the almost easy melody of the opening builds into a crescendo of clashing tones. The vocals chant against this rising movement as something truly profound settles on your soul, waiting for you to unlock its meaning.
The contrasts continue in ‘Song for the Garden’ as the guitar brings an organic and grounded feeling while higher tones seem to reach out into the cosmic nether. There is a light touch of psychedelia to the track that weaves between the layered contrasting tones. The vocals pick up this psychedelia and take you on a strangely grounded acid trip through nature and the power of the organic. Through the poetic movements of the lyrics, we are drawn into the consideration of eternity rising out of the soil in the garden. As with the other tracks on the album, the melody builds throughout the single as it leads you to a greater understanding of the world around us. After listening to this song, you may never look at your garden in the same way.
‘I Practice Dying (In the Spare Room)’ changes up the sound of the album with a deep beat and a touch of psychedelic vocals. There is an almost jazzy vibe to the horns that slink between the earthy beats. It is an interesting track that breaks up the movement of the album, with a lighter touch. While the lyrics bring a wash of gloom into the soundscape, the melodic arrangement keeps things light. The contrast is amazing as it brings an experience most people have gone through at some point to sonic life. Like those moments when you feel like you are floating into nothingness, while resting on your bed as the world moves on around you. The instrumentation is wonderful in its colourful movement in this track.
The birdsong that opens ‘A Full Day Spent (Between the Worlds)’ gives way to a churning atmospheric sound. There is a lapping feeling to the melody that draws you out in the current only to turn you around and tumble back to where you started. There is a strange trilling churn to the instrumentation that makes you want to sway to the rhythm with abandon. The vocals bring a meditative flow that skims across the surface of the music. The endless cycling through the soundscape brings a feeling of inward reflection that sweeps out into the mystery of the world around us.
‘The Very Eye of Night’ brings back a softer touch of folky goodness. The vocals have a campfire feeling to them, like you are out camping and chilling around the fire with friends. There is a freeing shuffle to the music that twirls in your soul like a woody breeze. The vocals bring a new twirling arrangement to the soundscape that enthrals you and lulls you under their spell. The lyrics have used a touch of metaphor to bring their meaning to life. This is a wonderfully organic track that is packed with the feeling of nature and connects us to something far beyond ourselves.
A creeping darkness makes its way into the album through ‘In My Room (A Creature Appears)’. There is something ominous to the guitar movement that yawns out into the dark recesses of the shadows. The movement of the track makes you think of those moments in the dark night when you wake up and see movement in the shadows that you can’t quite pinpoint. The vocals add to the darkness of the melody, sending the hairs on the back of your neck on edge. There is an interesting edge to the vocal performance that scratches at the back of your brain. The almost scratchy tones of the strings get your heart racing as they bring a feeling of tension and panic.
‘Flame (Flower in the Air)’ gets your attention with the stillness of night and the gentle call of the grasshopper. This sweeps into hazy vocals that are layered over themselves to create an interesting spoken yet melodic flow. There is a deep feeling of affection woven into this track as the lyrics describe the emotions being felt. The whispered vocals and hazy tones give way to a moving earthy drum that has you moving to its rhythm. There is an almost primal feeling to the movement of the track from this point as it calls to the depths of our emotions. The pace of the music increases, bringing the emotions of the track to a frenzy that is just waiting to burst out of you.
The moving tones of the last track take a different path in ‘Abracadabra Snare #1’. The shuffle of the beat has you shimmying to the music, while the lyrics take you on a journey far beyond the enclosures of the everyday. There is a call to enter another world woven into the lyrics where you can be free and let go of the troubles currently plaguing you. While there is this call, the vocal delivery has a strange feeling to it, like this other world is not really there. It is like your heart wants to explore the other worlds, but the vocals tether it to the reality we know as real.
The album comes to a close with ‘#8’ and its grounded opening. There is a word of wisdom in the opening vocals that offers some grounding. The earthy tones of the melody make you think of an endless place that lifts your spirits. The lyrics are really thought-provoking and will leave you contemplating what they are trying to tell you. There is a more stripped back feeling to this track, compared to the rest of the album that really sets you down gently to exit the album. The movement of the vocals is catchy in a smooth and downtempo way.
Through the tracks of At Home With My Candles, Half Shadow looks beyond the mundane and finds the extraordinary in everyday life. Each track brings the poetry of the lyrics to life in a unique way, while casting a spell over your senses. By the end of the album, Half Shadow will have taken you through various genres, single moments and other worlds to leave you seeing the world in a new way.