After the failed attempt to break through into the mainstream with her radio-friendly second album, The Hollow of Morning sees Gemma Hayes reverting back to the lo-fi guitar sound of her Mercury Music Prize-nominated debut. The first release through her self-titled, self-funded label, this is obviously the record Hayes wants to make. Produced by Night on My Side's David Odlum and featuring My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields on guitar, its back-to-basics approach is unlikely to yield any hit singles, but by abandoning any notions of commercial success, Hayes has been given a new lease of life. On first listen, only the crunching rock of "Out of Our Hands" and the California sun-soaked guitar pop of "Don't Forget" stand out, but Hayes' records have a habit of appearing rather nondescript at first, only to unfold after further plays to reveal an almost dreamlike quality, and this is no exception. Stripped-down opener "This Is What You Do" is an intimate acoustic number filled with melancholic harmonies; the atmospheric "Home" combines layered guitars with distorted vocals; and the epic "At Constant Speed" effortlessly switches from a wistful ballad to a synth-driven pop song. There are occasions when the presence of an obvious hook or chorus wouldn't go amiss, such as on the aimless "Chasing Dragons." But Hayes' secret weapon, her gorgeous Irish-lilted voice, often comes to the rescue, transforming a mediocre song into something worth listening to and a good song into something special. At just ten tracks long, one of them an instrumental, The Hollow of Morning never outstays its welcome, but after a three-year absence, some fans may feel a little shortchanged at its 36-minute running time. But it's very rare that one of those 36 minutes is wasted. Hayes is unlikely to be challenging for the Mercury Music Prize again, but those who appreciated her innovative debut will find much to like here.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien