It took Erik Hall four years to complete Driver, his second album as In Tall Buildings, following his 2010 self-recorded eponymous debut. After all, one of the two quotes that allegedly inspire his work is “Edit yourself, mercilessly,” by American writer Kurt Vonnegut. The other one is quite the opposite: “First thought, best thought,” as Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg put it. With two such mottos, we’d expect the Chicago-based musician to be rather unbalanced. However, his music reassures us – it is peaceful and coherent blend of guitars, percussion, synthesizers, reverb and a soothing voice that reminds me at times of Phil Collins and at others of Peter Gabriel.
Driver was entirely produced at home, between Hall’s home studio in Chicago, Illinois, and a farmhouse in Leelanau County, Michigan. Hall gives evidence of his abilities as multi-instrumentalist and producer. His style spans indie rock, folk, acoustic with hints of funk (When You See Me Fall). As a matter of fact, Hall studied classical piano since he was 8, played guitar in a high school rock band and studied audio engineering at the University of Michigan School of Music. While in college he joined the funk sextet NOMO and he has also recorded and toured with Michigan experimental rock group His Name Is Alive as well as dream-pop band Wild Belle.
Melancholic, hypnotic and intimate. These are the three adjectives that best describe Hall’s compositions as In Tall Buildings. Sometimes the tracks evoke the late Mark Linkous a.k.a. Sparklehorse (I’ll Be Up Soon), sometimes the pop soundscape is more similar to what we could find in one of the legendary albums by Nick Drake (Cedarspeak, short instrumental interlude). All You Pine makes me think of the 80s Waterboys, but the first seconds of Flare Gun could come out of a 70s electro album.
Despite all possible comparisons – which obviously highlight Hall’s eclectic output – the musician manages to create a world of his own in which he combines minimalistic riffs inspired by 20th century composers such as Steve Reich with 1970s layered, delicate and airy vocal harmonies. A world in which everyone should get lost.