The One AM Radio

A Name Writ in Water

(Level-Plane; 2004)

By Garin Pirnia | 20 November 2007

The sensitive folk singer/songwriter has been quite prolific in the indie rock scene lately. Musicians such as Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, Bonnie "Prince" Billy's Will Oldham, Mellowdrone's Jonathan Bates and Sufjan Stevens and have contributed acclaimed melancholy-centric albums in the past couple of years, channeling the likes of Neil Young and Nick Drake along the way. But more recently, a splash of electronic music has been added in this folk music genre; as we saw with last year’s auspicious debut from the Postal Service and the growing popularity of Germany's Notwist (who had been, interestingly enough, a metal band long before turning to experimental rock and now glitch-pop). The One A.M Radio, featuring Hrishikesh Hirway and violinist Jane Yakowitz, continue on A Name Writ In Water, their sophomore release, to fit somewhere in-between these two poles, even if they fall much closer to the latter.

Hirway is an aficionado at creating dreamy, almost hypnotic music that makes one sleepy, but in a good way. The first track, “What You Gave Away,” introduces and epitomizes One A.M.’s use of full arrangements, including an acoustic guitar, violin, drum machine, horn and occasional digitally affected vocals. “Pacific Northwest coast holds a place I long to see/ An unmarked stretch of beach is tied to your memory,” Hirway sings over the absorbing and entrancing backing, introducing the common theme of yearning. “Under Thunder and Gale” is a little less dramatic than that, but still maintains the track's lax atmosphere. The song evokes Múm, as gusts of wind and water sound effects in the background (something especially utilized on Múm's recent and disappointing Summer Make Good); the use of an acoustic guitar amongst the intriguing arrangement constructs strong imagery of a tranquil and lazy ocean retreat on a hot summer day. “I Didn’t Speak the Language,” an entirely instrumental and dreamy track, meanwhile, is soulful and peaceful, but is also too succinct.

Another instrumental, “Shivers” opens with some electronic glitch before the drum machine and violin kick in, successfully constructing the visual of an impending thunderstorm or that something of importance is about to be unleashed. “Witness” is an upbeat yet jazzy tune about a night on the town; “When night falls/ There is electricity.” “Those Distant Lights” follows and is nothing less than exuberant and stimulating with its fast drum beats and full circle electronic music that becomes the only song on the album that breaks free of the lamenting mood. The intriguing line, “Our only fear should be what if we stay here” makes the idea of escaping drudgery motivating and inspirational. The last song on the album, “Untied,” returns to the folksier, moodiness and ends the album on an optimistic note, becoming a bittersweet song about letting go of the things that harbor us: “We never die/ We simply get untied”

The One A.M. Radio has, with A Name Writ in Water, produced a stunning and beautiful piece of work filled with wistful, moving instrumentations and thoughtful lyrics. There is a good balance between traditional folk and electronic sounds (even if the folk aspect is scarce in the latter half of the album), neither sound usurping the other. The only real problem is the album how laconic it is -- only clocking in at 35 minutes; they could've added a couple of minutes here and there to further explore and experiment with the folk/electronic fusion. But despite the time factor, One A.M. Radio give us an appealing album that, lyrically, wallows in escaping an average life to inevitably try and find a better one, and the freedom that is obtained from letting go. It should be interesting to see where this goes.