Aqualung has been sort of dormant for the last few years. But now that Matt Hales has returned, his music has become even more strange and beautiful -- his fourth full-length album "Memory Man" is a beautiful swirl of wintry, misty Britpop, strung together on .
It opens with the trippy beats laid over plinky piano and gently cycling, fuzzy guitars. And sounding like he's singing through an old radio, Hales murmurs blearily, "I remember the night/No wet eyes, no crossroads/No mention of fate/Just a poor decision... Be careful what you hope and you pray for/You know you only get what you pay for."
It's followed by the softer, more mournful "Pressure Suit," which sounds like the Flaming Lips got drunk and depressed: "I'll be your four leaf clover/I'll be your pressure suit/I'll be your angel wings/I'll be your parachute." The songs that follow are similarly mournful and wintry, but different styles, like soaring pianopop, mellow guitar folk.
The second half is when the album really takes off, with heartbreaking little ballads and tightly-woven indiepop, though they both have the doleful lyrics and voicals. And it finishes where it began -- "Broken Bones" returns to Hales singing through static and fuzz, "Oh please, just a little more time with you..."
You can't really label "Memory Man" as either being happy or sad. Just like the experience of being in love, it's full of beauty laced with sadness, and the hope that it will last just a little longer. Even when the music is peppy and catchy, Hales still sounds like someone who loves love, but knows that it won't last.
The music itself is a beautiful, frosty swirl, which borders on psychedelic but never quite crosses the line. It's full of ringing, cycling guitars, solid drums, a rattly tambourine, and some piano that plinks through some songs instead of the guitar. And the delicate synth-- it shimmers, buzzes, chimes, and forms an ambient sweep over the delicate Britpop tunes.
Hales' smooth voice always sounds like he's singing out his woes at midnight, about relationships that are gone, or about to vanish. But he doesn't exaggerate the importance of what he's singing, just dwells on it: "There's only so much that our heart can grow/Then everything else starts to overflow/And you're young and in love/Back then there was no way of knowing..."
Mournful love is at the heart of "Memory Man," wrapped up in Hales' solid trip-Britpop. The first half is a bit weaker than the second, but it's still a lovely little album.