Saturday, November 12, 2011

EP review: Ian Hoffman - 'Dome Swan'

By Sasha Geffen

I noticed recently that EPs and shorter records are going to make up a surprisingly large portion of my top releases of 2011 list. It seems that online distribution hasn't reinstated the single as the primary form of release, as some predicted, but the EP instead. The iTunes and now the Bandcamp models of selling music may have shortened the length of breakthrough records, but we're still seeing the best new music emerging as whole multi-song worlds. Maybe our attention spans have shrunk, or maybe the space of 20-30 minutes better holds the zeitgeist. Either way, it's become increasingly clear that artists can create entirely satisfying new work in the space of four to eight songs.

The latest release from Ian Hoffman, for example, feels more like a whole forest than a grove. Just four songs long, Dome Swan went the route of the mp3 and vinyl-only release. Boycotting the nearly obsolete compact disc is quickly becoming the new standard--why pay extra for a physical vessel of digital song files with shrunken artwork when a good analog press sounds better and the tactile engagement with the vinyl is just more fun? While I didn't get the opportunity to review the 7 inch release of Dome Swan, I can imagine it suits the medium perfectly. 

This warm and incredibly lush miniature release marks Ian Hoffman's first venture under his own name. The former leader of Needers & Givers retains his predilection for tight, urgent songcraft, and to be honest, Dome Swan hardly sounds like a solo record. The accompanying efforts of Denise Hradecky (who both mixed and performed bass and vocals on the EP) and Christopher Hoffman ensure that the woodsy, acoustic sounds fill a great space. The depth of sound created by layers of guitars and vocal harmonies makes Dome Swan sound expansive, much in the way Elliott Smith or Jeff Mangum have never really sounded like one man in a room with a guitar. 

The highlight of the album has to be the title track, which plays out like a midnight venture through a haunted thicket. High, eerie tones hang in the air above Hoffman's guitar and sprinkled percussion like yellow ghosts above knotted branches. But Hoffman paints a lovely unease on all four songs, sculpting out melodies sure to hang around your skull long after they stop playing. Dome Swan places pop structures under a mottled autumnal light, letting sweetness and oblique fear chase each other in and out of the shadows. Its simultaneously intimate and mythic qualities lift it above the typical connotations of the indie-folk tag.

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