Peter Hammill

Thin Air

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Amazingly, Peter Hammill delivers yet another strong studio album, his fourth in the 2000s, and once again different than the previous two or three. Thin Air may be less experimental than Singularity (the previous one), but it is bleaker -- and a more cohesive, consistent artistic proposition. You will find no lighter track or rock song on this one: only acoustic guitar or piano-based songs about deception, secrecy, world domination, and coming undone. As his band Van der Graaf Generator had first been reactivated, then found its creative second wind in the 21st century, Hammill is coming back to his solo career basics on Thin Air: less airy keyboards, almost no percussion, just acoustic guitars, piano, some gnarly electric guitar lines, bass, and those massed and intertwined back vocals that have become his signature. The songs are typically Hammillian, and the songwriting is prime: both direct and complex. Thin Air yields two instant classics in the guitar-based "Stumbled" (reminiscent of "Driven") and the piano-based "Undone," but there's a lot more to enjoy. "The Mercy" is particularly good, its simple verse leading to a disintegrating chorus and an instrumental break that literally comes undone, before pieces get picked up and reassembled (the structure is similar to "Modern," believe it or not). The lyrically linked "Ghosts of Plane" and "The Top of the World Club" are also highlights. More importantly, no track here deserves the "skip button" treatment. With simpler sonics than Singularity or Incoherence, very strong songwriting, and thematic unity, Thin Air has fans agreeing more than disagreeing about its merits, and that speaks volumes about the quality of this album, one of the man's top efforts. It's even a good place to dig into Hammill's sizeable discography, as you get a taste of his intensity, without the raw turn-your-heart-inside-out of his live performances.

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