Album Review: String Machine – ‘Hallelujah Hell Yeah’

Posted: by The Editor

There’s a noticeable feeling of push-and-pull to the songs on Hallelujah Hell Yeah; both the desire to embrace the world and take part in it and the urge to embrace solitude and retreat from society, never to be heard from again. The sense of contradiction bleeds into String Machine’s unique style of indie folk, which feels rooted in tradition at the same time as it is experimental and off-kilter, adding keys, horns, strings, and occasional electronic touches overtop of the acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies at the heart of the songs. 

The seven-member group leans into this clash from the get-go with “Places to Hide,” an insanely catchy tune highlighting the huge sound String Machine is working with here, and also featuring a soulful trumpet break that’s sure to catch your attention. The feeling of anxiety and being stuck between two poles shows up in how the line “I wanna hide forever with my jaw taped shut / paper cuts on my jotting hand” is followed by the final chorus of “but I can’t pretend / it’s not worth it in the end / to drop all of my plans / and pick up.” 

“Churn It Anew” carries on that feeling of recognizing it is worth crawling out of wherever you’ve been in retreat to rejoin the world, with lyrics like “but the thrill is chased from all these spaces / with sacred stones and the scent of sages / and I just wanna know how it feels to feel it again” leading into a massive singalong chorus that is sure to be a crowdpleaser live. “Gales of Worry” pulls things back a bit, and is one of the more straightforward indie folk tracks (but still layered with countermelodies and trippy programming). Indie folk is probably the best general way to describe String Machine’s music, but it does not really capture what they’re doing—there are heavy punk moments, spacey electronic interludes, and a feeling of unconventionality that flies in the face of the mainstream indie folk that had its moment during the Obama years. So many of those bands made music that fit a particular aesthetic, but ultimately was bland and boring, with little lyrical depth. Hallelujah Hell Yeah is anything but bland and boring, and David Beck’s lyrics are fantastic, with the line “hands on the helm of aging / I’ve had friends jump ship” opening “Gales of Worry” and setting you up for the melancholy chorus of “I take another one down / I can’t pick myself up now / so I take another one down / and I pour myself out.” 

One of the more impressive things about this record is that, even though the opening tracks are phenomenal, you could reasonably argue that the album is actually backloaded—particularly with the four-song run that begins with “Eyes Set 4 Good,” a lively tune with bouncy keys and trumpet, as well as a shoutalong chorus that may be the best on the record (but really, there are no misses Hallelujah Hell Yeah, and every chorus is an absolute barnburner). “Dark Morning (Magnetic)” is one of the album’s more ambitious tunes, with a driving beat, jumping staccato trumpet, and gorgeous moments from the cello. The lyrics take on feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, as Beck wonders “how will I feel today / with where I am getting born again? / My past life breathing on down my neck / I wake up & then I’m sworn in / but I never asked to be with this way / but I am, and I can’t just give up now.”  After a repeated bridge of “I don’t want to let you go,” the group takes a hard left turn into a heavy punk coda, marking the album’s most hardcore moment.

It’s followed by the rollicking and infectious “Touring In January,” which kicks off with an energetic horn line, creating a sunny contrast to the end of “Dark Morning (Magnetic).” It’s another standout track that highlights all of String Machine’s members and—like the entire record—is sure to fit comfortably into the live setting. “Soft Tyranny” goes back-and-forth between more laid back feel and a driving, energetic attack before fading into a dreamy and spacey electronic interlude. “Your Turn” comes in with just vocals and acoustic guitar, forcing your focus to Beck’s surreal lyrics as the rest of the band slowly make their presence known. The track grows into a gorgeous and swirling mix of falsetto and harmonies, strings, piano that subtly drop out to leave the final note to the acoustic. 

What’s really stunning about Hallelujah Hell Yeah goes back to one of the record’s contradictions: it is both extremely accessible, while also somewhat of an eccentric oddball record. It’s a record that you feel like you could show anyone who is into music, no matter what type of music they like. Yet, this is not simple, sugarcoated music meant to appeal to the masses, and it loses none of its originality in its ubiquitous appeal. Finding its heart in these contradictions, Hallelujah Hell Yeah is a beautiful and raucous record that leaves you with an almost overwhelming sense of joy.

The album is out this Friday (2/25) on Know Hope Records.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great/ Phenomenal

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

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