Soundtrack to writing – Hem

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Music

A new feature on my site will be the periodic discussion about the music I listen to. This is more than mere lip-service to musicians that I like, though there is a bit of overlap — if I didn’t enjoy their music, they wouldn’t inspire the creative impulses and strong emotional resonance that I seek as an author.

Up first, we have Hem, a band that has been described interchangeably as countrypolitan, chamber folk, or indie folk rock. I discovered them by accident. Somehow I stumbled upon their album Eveningland (Rounder Records, 2004) on iTunes shortly after it was released. I was immediately struck by a sound that was both lush and comfortable. And that voice! Singer Sally Ellyson was a revelation — a simple, clean voice, not over-wrought, not over-produced. It was the voice of Ivory soap, the voice of a mother singing lullabies to her children (not surprisingly, her audition tape was one of lullabies sung for a friend’s infant son.)

If I were to describe Hem’s sound, I would have to do away with the irrelevant labels of genre. Their music is like a hug. It makes me feel like I’m 10 — like I’ve been walking home from school on a crisp autumn day with leaves crunching beneath my feet and there is a cup of cocoa waiting at home for me. Songs such as “Pacific Street,” “The Fire Thief,” “Redwing,” and “The Beautiful Sea” feel like old friends, like family you love and don’t get to see often enough. Even the instrumental tracks (“Eveningland” on the eponymous CD and “The Burnt Over District” on the likewise brilliant Funnel Cloud album – Nettwerk 2006) have a richness not found in most popular music.

Maybe that’s why they aren’t, by strict sales and tracking standards, popular. Some of their songs have been picked up for commercials, exposing their sound to a wider audience. Whether this has translated into greater sales, I couldn’t say. One thing is certain, however, is that they deserve a wider audience.

I have used many of their songs in personal soundtracks while writing, most significantly during sections of Cobalt City Blues and several short pieces. Having them on in the background engenders a comfortable and happy calm that never threatens to lull me to sleep, unlike most ambient music.

You can find them on iTunes or Amazon downloads, or on their site (the musical listing linked here) . I heartily recommend a listen.

Maybe you will find inspiration there for your own writing.

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