“Sometimes all it takes to truly be great is that it’s not so bad as the last time that you tried.”
Whether in an attempt to reassure themselves or downplay the record to come, Hello Death begins their sophomore release with what could almost have been written as an ode to follow-up albums, the muted “Truly Be Great”. On top of singer Nathaniel Heuer’s shaggy baritone and acoustic guitar sits a heavy burden: the tired resignation and lowered expectations of adulthood. These feelings permeate the rest of the album, adding a weight to each song that holds it to the ground. The songs that make up Remnants don’t move, they linger.
The eight-track collection gives a glimpse into what the Milwaukee-based quartet left on the April Base floor during the formation of 2013’s self-titled release. Standing in contrast (and complement) to the echoing dirges that made up Hello Death, Remnants is rougher, straight-forward, stripped down to minimal; its lyrics leaving the listener to contemplate the inescapable resignation that the band’s own name implies.
So when you take away the ghostly layers of instrumentals that characterized the first album, what remains? While the gothic vastness of their first album served to qualify the band, Remnants relies instead on their more understated strengths: the juxtaposition of the voices of its three singers, and heady lyrics that simultaneously soothe and depress.
The album is most successful when it employs the harmonies of Marielle Allschwang and Erin Wolf, whose voices float effortlessly about Heuer’s baritone on closing tracks “Undercover” and “The Mistake”, adding depth to the two songs that most closely resemble the orchestral quality of Hello Death’s earlier songs. But it’s the tender “Tie Me Up” that stands out in the mass of sad folk songs, its heartbreaking detachment underscored by the delicate vocals.
In total, Remnants is an album made up of broken expectations and missed opportunities, the feeling of the fight slowly leaving the body; of growing up. It is fragmented in its messaging and musicality, but in that fragmentation lie moments of real beauty. While not as entrancing as its predecessor, Remnants proves that what’s left behind can still be worthwhile.