Album Review: Hilang Child – Years

By on Friday, 10th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Thomas Harrison

Hilang Child Years coverLondon-based singer/songwriter Ed Riman, known professionally as Hilang Child, captured my attention earlier this year at SXSW 2018, with his memorable performance at the official showcase of his record label, Bella Union. While the lighting and atmosphere at the Parish that night contributed to the brilliance of his show, it was the vivid soundscapes he created on stage that echoed in my mind long after the evening was over. Riman’s solo performance at SXSW was a natural precursor to the release of his upcoming debut album, titled ‘Years’.

Thematically, this LP is a prolonged introspection on reaching adulthood and the ephemerality of youth. As with many such intropective albums, ‘Years’ is sonically atmopheric and suggestive of moods rather than specific storylines. To label its music as “impressionistic” would be accurate but might call to mind the wrong ideas: Riman paints here with broad, sweeping brushstrokes and vivid colors rather than the soft, misty haze that term generally implies. The most immediate example of that bold sonic quality is in the album’s opening track ‘I Wrote a Letter Home’.

The main focus throughout ‘Years’ is on Hilang Child’s overarching sonic textures. In this regard, Riman says that he has learned through experience to trust his instincts in writing and self-producing these unique soundscapes. Speaking of his early recordings, he remembers, “I was always more excited about my home demos, recorded on a laptop, than the final recordings. I learnt that the only way I could convey the sound I wanted was by producing it myself, despite having little knowledge or ability in production.”

This is not to say that Riman completely ignores lyrics or melody; it’s simply that he uses them in service to the overall sound. His song forms don’t always follow the predictable verse/chorus/verse pattern, though his lyrics and do contain fragments of refrain, and his light, flexible vocal tone blends seamlessly into the instrumental backdrop. His piano melodies are bright and well-defined, standing out against the instrumentation in a way that his singing voice doesn’t, but they are not designed as catchy hooks or motifs. He enriches his textures with interesting percussion throughout the album, adding a distinctive rhythmic quality and sense of motion to the pensive, slow-moving harmonic progressions.

Riman allows his vocals to come to the forefront on ‘Sleepwalk’, arguably the album’s centerpiece, where Riman wonders, rhetorically, “what’s it all for, what can I show? / for 25 years alive, don’t know if I’ve ever tried, I’m sleepwalking tonight”. His hazy instrumental backdrop is propelled toward self-absolution by a shuffling rhythm, and his lilting vocals are powerfully emotive as he sings the final lyric, “this darkening down inside ends tonight’.

Following a brief instrumental interlude titled ‘Boy’, Riman makes another bold statement in ‘Starlight, Tender Blue’, which features layered synths and vocal lines over brooding guitar lines and heart-pounding drums. ‘Rot’ returns to the more pensive side of things, with the permeating warmth of its musical arrangement illustrating the sentiment behind its opening lyric, “even after everything I know, I’m not the bitter one”. ‘Endless String’ is similarly muted and self-reflective, its whispered vocals anchored into a rhythmic and tonal context by strong underlying piano chords.

Riman rounds out ‘Years’ with a flourish, or rather two of them. The anthemic recent single ‘Crow’, which is perhaps the most easily accessible individual track on the album, outside its full context. The song’s emphatic rhythm and and melodic piano lines are among the album’s most memorable moments, and Riman’s vocals reach their peak intensity in its swelling chorus. The album’s elusively-titled final track ‘Lissohr’ is deliberately more evasive, with an amorphous instrumental underlying vocal layers that echo as if from a great distance.

In the press release for ‘Years’, Riman mentions that his stage name, Hilang Child, translates from Malay as “missing child”. Certainly the thematic material on this album reflects a young adult’s struggle to find identity, but in terms of Riman’s musicality, the name Hilang Child might be something of a misnomer. Ambitious in its scope and brave in its sonic exploration, ‘Years’ presents Hilang Child as a composer who is clearly finding his place, with confidence in his own skill and a keen sense of clarity about his sonic vision.

8/10

Hilang Child’s debut LP ‘Years’ is out today, the 10th of August, on Bella Union. TGTF’s coverage of this intriguing artist at SXSW 2018 can be found through here.

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