Album review: Haley's 'Pleasureland' is an example of a hard left turn executed the right way
The Minnesota artiste abandons lyrics on her ninth LP 'Pleasureland' for a full-length instrumental that is a fine example of a sure-footed new chapter in Haley's musical journey
With her ninth studio album 'Pleasureland', Minnesota-based artiste Haley (professionally known as Haley Bonar for the last 15 years) embarks on a series of firsts. Most noticeably, it is her first full-length instrumental album with no signs of her malleable, powerful vocals, which she's put to solid use in her past records. It is also her first album after she legally changed her name to Haley McCallum (to reflect her maternal family name) and changed her stage name to just 'Haley'.
Each of the 12 tracks on the album arrives with its own accompanying visuals, and it also marks Haley's first time dabbling with the new medium. To say the least, 'Pleasureland' is a brave effort. But it's also much more than that. It's a blatant U-turn made with a level of confidence and sharp intent that reflects clearly through the 27-minute instrumental journey.
The choice to do away with vocals entirely is a purely political one, Haley revealed to Meaww in an exclusive interview. "The real reason why I chose to do a full-length [instrumental album] is definitely political," Haley said. "After the 2016 presidential elections, I felt overwhelmed and very depressed."
"I didn't even know how to make sense with words about how I was feeling. So I just felt like... How can I express myself in a way that's real, not forced. And I thought of the abstract artists coming out of the 1950s and early '60s and how it wasn't something you could look at and tell what it was, but you could look at it and feel it. I wanted to do something like that."
Indeed, 'Pleasureland' (which derives its title from the name of an RV park that symbolized to Haley the comical excesses of the capitalistic ideology that engulfs us) is not an album to be made sense out of. It's an album to be felt. It's the kind of album you choose as the soundtrack for an early morning as you stand with a cigarette and a coffee in your balcony, looking out into the surreal mess of the modern landscape, introspecting: "How the f**k did we get here?"
With the chaotic synth-driven album opener 'Infinite Credit Part 1', Haley delivers a sonic force majeure: a 67-second frenzy that feels like you're standing in the middle of an '80s style arcade, assaulted by the noise of the video games that surround you. The intro blends into the contrasting 'Give Yourself Away', a brooding, slow-burner of a piano-driven track that ends with a wall of fuzzy noise to rinse the palate before Future Maps's stripped-back post-rock melodies alter the mood yet again.
This gives way to the desert rock-flecked 'Syrup', clearly a standout track from the album that opens with distorted guitars that sound like the revving of an old engine, courtesy of longtime collaborator Jeremy Ylvisaker. 'Credit Forever 2' takes the classical route with piano flourishes that sound like the exact antithesis of its counterpart, 'Credit Forever Part 1'. On the intimate, lo-fi saxophone-driven 'Pig Latin', Haley teams up with saxophonist Mike Lewis (Happy Apple, Bon Iver) who embroils his jazz influences with gritty, breathy rasps that stay with you long after the track is done. The two-part 'Infinite Pleasure' blends the digital and the organic together, mixing elements of fuzzy noise-rock with samples of a human heartbeat. 'Next Time (For C)' and 'Lonely As A Mother' are intricately woven tracks that show-off soothing strings courtesy of the Laurels String Quartet.
Self-produced by Haley and constructed primarily around her own piano at home, the sparse interlacing of digital and organic sounds elicit both the uneasiness of a world shifting unexpectedly as well as the innate human capacity to overcome the toughest of ordeals. Even without the context of the political intentions behind the album's lack of lyricism, 'Pleasureland' is as welcoming as curiously unsettling for both new listeners and returning fans. Going back to the rest of Haley's material will leave you stumped, and will only raise the respect for an underrated artist who doesn't shy away from taking on new challenges head-on.
The visuals for the tracks which released simultaneously with the album and can be viewed on Haley's YouTube channel in entirety complement the theme of the album with their flickering images of gritty, lo-fi scenes drowned in capitalistic excess. Based on whether you listen to the record independently without the visuals or with them, 'Pleasureland' could offer multiple meanings. Either way, it evokes a deep range of emotions, all while holding its own as a cohesive whole, announcing a brand new chapter in the Canadian-born artist's musical journey.
Apple Music subscribers can stream 'Pleasureland' in its entirety below.