“A SIMPLY BRILLIANT DEBUT . . .
BY TURNS INTIMATE AND EPIC.”
THE BOSTON GLOBE (50 BEST ALBUMS OF 2022)
“LYRICAL PARADISE . . .
NOTHING SHORT OF GENIUS.”
THE SEATTLE SPECTATOR
“GENTLE, BROODING, WANDERING, CIRCLING BACK . . .
as dense and natural as the forested loam where the songs first took their roots.”
The green murmuring of dreams has long echoed through Miles Hewitt’s work, whether in poetry or song.
After years leading Boston art-rock collective The Solars, whose debut EP Retitled Remastered landed on DigBoston’s Best Albums of 2017, Hewitt returned to Harvard College to finish his award-winning poetry collection The Candle is Forever Learning to Sing. Following his graduation in 2018, Hewitt made for the sylvan Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, settling in a small hilltown just down the road from a friend’s recording studio and a few miles from where he’d spent his first year of life.
It was there, amidst the cycling greens, browns, and blues, that the songs that would become Hewitt’s debut solo album, Heartfall, emerged. Drawing on British and American folk music, ‘70s songwriter rock, psychedelia, krautrock, and electronic music, Heartfall seeks what the late critic Ian MacDonald called “the chime.” It’s an album for album-lovers, redolent with longing and mystery, magic and dread, wielding the poet’s eye for enchantment, the musician’s ear for the unsayable, and the mystic’s heart of gold.
“Blow wind, blow rain / blow it all away,” Hewitt pleas on the haunting “Love Comes to Those Who Ask”. “I know you know how, just give me any other shape.” This is music on an elemental scale — cycles and wheels, warped and misused, recur, as do fires, rain, heavenly bodies, spirits, and dreams — with Hewitt’s unmistakable silvery voice smiling near the center. Formally spare, few of Heartfall’s compositions have recognizable verse/chorus structures, instead holding patterns that melt away only when fully exhausted. Hewitt recalls: “As I became interested in a less anthropocentric mentality, I wondered if this could be expressed through formally organic songs, built from looping phrases or motifs and evolving at the level of the line.” The effect of these slow changes — a kind of temporal dilation that can make it easy to forget just how long you’ve been listening to a given song — invites a state of consciousness more familiar in drone and ambient music than most rock ‘n’ roll.
Lead single “Moongreening” arrived “all at once, like a complete transmission” during an uneasy and sleepless night about a month into the pandemic. Ranging from ancient mythology to modern emergency, its chorus (“Days of doubt, nights of dreaming”) was influenced by Robert Graves’ seminal The White Goddess and establishes the album’s liminal, twilit mood, while its instrumentation — building from a naked vocal-and-piano solo performance to a grand production featuring saxophones, congas, and a string quartet — introduces its epic musical scope.
Later, Heartfall’s title track foresees an uncanny autumn, one that has arrived at the wrong time, or is perhaps the last one. Hewitt’s sandpapery vocal — “It ain’t much, but it’s home / out here with everything in bloom” — weaves eerily with Griffin Brown’s chromatic string quartet arrangement, which seems to speak in its own inhuman tongue. “The Ark” opens with the sound of rushing water that transforms into a tempest of drums and bass, setting up a search for the mythical vessel that can deliver humanity from climatic doom; “Vision”, the album’s closer, ends with a rainbow — a covenant of ecological balance and safety. “Song for Sam” attempts communion with a stabilizing Muse, even while suspecting that the requisite rituals and knowledge may have become polluted, the lines cut off:
Take the Lord’s name and a snake egg
And a moonbeam so bright
Deep into the forest
Where she’s dressed all in white
Take all you learned
Though it wasn’t enough
And if you don’t know what to do
With such powerful stuff
Then do like the tough do
When the going gets tough
After relocating from western Massachusetts to Brooklyn in 2019, Hewitt began recruiting a variety of stalwart session players, including members of the bands of Devendra Banhart, Kevin Morby, and Aldous Harding. These tremendous contributors make Heartfall a bottomless sonic feast that rewards careful listening in headphones — from Jared Samuel’s moonlit organ on the title track and drummer David Christian’s loping groove on “Words Out of My Mouth” to Shahzad Ismaily’s mesmeric backwards piano on “Art of War” and Jack McLoughlin’s ominous storms of electric guitar on the “Gimme Some Truth”-meets-Ege Bamyasi jam “Reporter”. Recording sessions took place during the pandemic at a variety of studios in Brooklyn, upstate New York, and Massachusetts, with Hewitt self-producing and Phil Weinrobe (Adrianne Lenker, Leonard Cohen) mixing the results.
Dense and dreamlike, yet undeniably alive, Heartfall takes up a spiritual quest for unifying “deep streams” amid a fracturing land.