Hal are destined to be compared to the Thrills: both groups are from Ireland; both are purveyors of ultra-hooky, dramatic vocal harmony-drenched tunes with a West Coat slant; and both are very, very good. Once you get past the surface comparisons, though, there are enough differences to reduce the similarities to a happy coincidence. Hal certainly aren't ripping off the Thrills; there is far too much exuberance and excitement on their debut album for them to be written off as mere imitators. They lack the pretension and arch concept of the Thrills; they also have more emotional depth and a more relaxed feel. Besides, they just might be better anyway. The first two songs give the Thrills and just about anyone else a serious run: "What a Lovely Dance" is a chiming mini-epic that encompasses walls of guitars, humming synthesizers and organs, lyrics about lost mittens and messed-up hair, spiraling falsetto harmonies, and a totally alive sound that feels like you have your fingers knuckle deep in a light socket, and the Edwyn Collins-produced "Play the Hits" is a star-spangled blast of sunshine and manic energy that is hard to listen to without picturing Hal racing around like the Monkees on the beach as brothers Dave and Paul Allen croon and careen through wall of bells, maracas, and Motown guitars. The rest of the record is no real letdown either, as the Allens' vocals are a constant treat and the group proves itself equally adept at laid-back ballads that utilize subtle string arrangements (the aching "Keep Love As Your Golden Rule," "I Sat Down"); gentle, summery rockers ("Don't Come Running," the falsetto-drenched "Fools By Your Side"); and even arena-friendly soft rock ballads (the weighty "Worry About the Wind," which shows bands like Coldplay that you can be serious and deep without being boring). Echoes of the Beatles, Harry Nilsson, the Beach Boys, and Phil Spector are everywhere, and while those aren't exactly unique or even very interesting reference points in 2005, Hal again go beyond imitation and use their influences as a good band should, as guides and not blueprints. Hal really sound like another in the long line of melodic bands from the British Isles that has been dazzling music fans since the late '90s -- think Super Furry Animals, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, and (again, in case you forgot) the Thrills. Add some American groups like Mercury Rev at their poppiest and a choir-less Polyphonic Spree, or Canadians like the Heavy Blinkers, and if that list sounds like your record collection, you shouldn't think twice about adding Hal. They'll be stuck in your CD player for weeks, guaranteed.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra