Ed Hale – So For Real – Album Review
Sometimes you just know. I’m gonna write some words here for ya…and not a single one of them are going to do this album any justice. All I can truly say, is that you gotta hear this one for yourself…and that I highly recommend you do.
You can immediately hear the work that has been put into the material and music on this album from the moment you hear “Summer Flowers” begin. Production in on-point, the sound is superbly polished and shines right through your speakers, pumping out a vibe in the music that’s colorful, stuffed with melody and warm tones in the vocals, and really feels like a summer day in full bloom. Strong start filled with sweet sentiment, tight musicianship, and stunning execution all-around really…it’s definitely got the kind of bright & sunny energy in the pop-influenced indie-hooks that’ll pull people in quick to listen. Dude’s clearly a great singer – and you’ll find him using his voice in all kinds of creative ways throughout this whole album. On “Summer Flowers” he takes a Pop-inclined sweetness to soaring heights around the two-minute mark, nearly becoming Jonny Gnecco from Ours for a highlight moment at the apex of this first tune, seriously belting it out with flawless & gripping tone. I’ll say this…because there’s just about zero if anything at all to pick on when it comes to this entire album as you’ll soon find out…I felt like “Summer Flowers” was a great tune…but this is truly where this ride starts. As great as it is – and know that this would be the pinnacle song on most other records out there – this is the clay that Ed begins to mold and shape this album…and by the time he’s finished with ya, you’ll see the full scope of the design. “Summer Flowers” is the kind of solid cut that confirms whatever it is he’s gonna go after is going to be worth your while…you can hear that there’s genuine passion, focus & dedication here.
“Tell You True” is the kind of groove you can’t resist. Ed doesn’t give you any time to even question it, this track kicks into gear immediately…doesn’t matter which part you examine from the first moment forward, this tune is all-hook, all-day. And meaty! Like, this isn’t just Pop that’s gonna wear out quickly – there’s a real interesting layer of mystery in the melody of “Tell You True” and true texture to the rhythm that continues to impress more & more as you repeat this whole experience. I’ll tell you this as well – when you hear the execution and ideas on these first two tracks, you know you’re in for a record of complete quality…this is absolutely exceptional…ED is absolutely exceptional. The shift into the chorus of “Tell You True” is killer…love the way the bass moves the rhythm, love the backing vocals that come through…love the part 1&2 writing in the chorus as well and how it really continues to expand. That’s certainly the magic of “Tell You True” and a fact about this entire record – where you think you’ll have reached the limit of what Ed can pull off in one song, he’ll reveal yet another stunning part just around the corner and somehow manage to impress you even more. The tone on the guitar solo in this tune is wicked, the vocals are a spot-on perfect match for the vibe, it’s lyrically focused with sweet sentiment…pretty irresistible really. And what would you say if I told you this record continues to get significantly better from here? I know what you’re thinking…I get it, I get it…HOW would that even be possible right? Believe me – Ed’s started out impressive, but he’s got so much for in the tank still.
I’ll share a secret with you. When I initially glanced at the album lineup and the song titles before I had even pushed play, I cringed a bit when I saw the third song “Gimme Some Rock ‘n’ Roll.” As much as I try not to make any prejudgments of any record I listen to, in most cases there are things you can infer from what you see if you look closely. Seeing a title like “Gimme Some Rock ‘n’ Roll” implied to me that I might be in for a standard set of bar band tunes – and this whole record was seriously anything but. This would almost be like a combination of something like Alt-J-meets-The-Beta-Band, maybe a bit (or a lot) of the ol’ Dandy Warhols in there as well for good measure. For a title that initially scared the crap out of me, I had to chuckle at how cynical I can be at times – “Gimme Some Rock ‘n’ Roll” might have had the advantage of surprise in that sense, but I think this is ultimately just another seriously great tune on So For Real. Like the Dandy Warhols would do, Ed locks right into the rhythm and groove of this song and takes the hooks for the ride they deserve without trying to fill this track with anything more than it needs. The balance between the verse & chorus of this cut is a sonic ACHIEVEMENT – there are few cuts out there so immediately inviting as this is – and the way that Ed keeps you attention right on this one through such an impressive selection of sound & instrumentation, smart layers of vocals, and really letting the organic groove of this tune come right to the surface…is award worthy – LOVE this tune!
Ed never lets up throughout this entire experience – like, “The Prince Of New York” is one seriously killer cut too – didn’t we just come out of one? Aren’t we going to head right into another afterwards? What an artist, what a talent, what a melody-maker and musical mastermind! Somewhere in the middle of like…Built To Spill, The Wildhearts, The Strokes, and…honestly, maybe a band like Cake when it comes to how the songwriting comes across…think like, the songs on the album Pressure Chief. The hazy, laidback vibe is unbelievably smooth, still fully gripping in all the right ways…there’s just so much style in this song that you can’t help but listen to every single second of it. ED! Dude! Where did you come from bro? As in, what planet? I’m seriously beyond impressed with this record…this guy is superhuman. The hooks and melody of “The Prince Of New York” are built of a timeless style of songwriting and true passion…everything about this song from production to performance comes out as flawless as it can be. Listen to the elements like the strings and how they interact with the guitars, drums, vocals…there’s such vibrant LIFE in the music of Ed Hale that you can’t help but notice. The way he bends the melody of the vocal flow on “The Prince Of New York” is like watching butter melt onto popcorn…it just oozes over every second of this song. I’d say he probably even reaches out more theatrically on this particular cut, those saxophones add to that feeling as well, as do the backing vocals and atmosphere in this song – and I’m fairly known to resist tunes I’d generally describe in that style…but there’s no resisting this. I’d say there’s a great chance that “The Prince Of New York” could easily be in my top three from So For Real – check it out below!
Ed’s got a truly identifiable style & sound that’s certainly one he can proudly call his own. You’ll find comparisons for sure, but at the end of the day, this dude really does his own thang – and it’s awesome. Like say, “Stephanie’s Song (It’s Alright It’s Okay)” is almost like a melding between a Tom Petty vibe and filtered through the skewed & beautiful artistic perspective of something like Band Of Horses. Put it to you this way, “Stephanie’s Song (It’s Alright It’s Okay)” is one of the shorter cuts on the record, but it’ll make a memorable & lasting impact on ya…the hooks in this cut are impressively chill. Again, backing vocals and violin sounds play a strong role in shaping the sound of this tune – I think Ed’s even got a xylophone in the mix here too if I’m not mistaken…tiny little details like this really add to the intimate & humble melody that “Stephanie’s Song (It’s Alright It’s Okay)” wears so well. The percussion in this song too…the way that the vocals are essentially whispered at us…the imagery in the lyricism…this entire vibe remains stunningly focused, revealing a sweetness in the chorus that continues to elevate the purity of this tune and gentle innocence of the sound.
A song like “Marsha’s Sleeping” almost makes my head explode in trying to organize my thoughts in what to say about it. Like – TRY to pick a favorite moment of this song…it’s impossible…there are…just…too many…things to like… Songwriting is impeccable…execution is flawless…the melody is amazing, the evolution and structure of the song is brilliant, the instrumentation is breathtaking, the selection of sounds in the atmosphere is impeccable…I think everything about this cut is 100% gold. But then again, if I’m being fair to both myself & to Ed, what about this album hasn’t been 100% pure gold? Violins are gorgeous once again…guitars sparkle quaintly…the vocals and lyrics remain the star of the melody…there’s just no two-ways about it – Ed understands songwriting on a level that most will never get to. “Marsha’s Sleeping” is as beautifully accessible as it is heartbreaking at times in how Ed questions what her thoughts might be as she’s slumbering away – and the second-half of this cut breaks-open to include even more colorful melody & sound surrounding you like a dream come to life. Words can’t describe it, I can’t do this guy any justice with anything I’d possibly say – Ed’s just next-level as next-level gets and completely ready to lead the way for the rest to follow; he’s confident, he’s crafty, he’s cool – “Marsha’s Sleeping” is another highlight on what is a record stocked wall-to-wall with’em.
The magic this dude can make on the inside of three minutes or less is jaw dropping, “Honestly.” In an updated psych/indie combination of sound that’s like taking The Beatles and Golden Smog & putting them together for an imaginative, colorful, and creative collaboration…”Honestly” fits right into the alt/art universe of songs where it belongs. Really dig how this dude does his vocals…and again, listen to the amount of imagination he’s got when it comes to what’s included in the music as well – “Honestly” really flexes a ton of stunning sounds for such a short length. Reminds me a lot of one of my other favorite indie-bands we’ve found through these reviews when we checked out School Friends and the album Coma a couple years or so back…very similar level of insightful dedication to detail and gorgeous melodies in both records. I also think this is one of the tougher spots on the record to have filled – “Marsha’s Sleeping” is a real epic and memorable tune – so to hear Ed make such a smart choice by placing “Honestly” right behind it in the lineup and continue to succeed in holding our attention so effortlessly was a genuine relief…because make no mistake people, he’s working on a flawless album & experience here throughout So For Real. If anything, I think I could understand the argument that this could still be the most challenging tune for people on the record in terms of accessibility…but we’re likely talking very small degrees of difference; show me one person struggling and I’ll show you two more fans that Ed just picked up with “Honestly” – you feel me? It’s an adventurous tune for its short length and really highlights just how much of a unique atmosphere he can create from song to song.
I don’t usually make as many comparisons as I have in this review, but there are so many things you can hear in Ed’s music that you can’t help but hear & latch onto. Like, listening to the title-track “So For Real,” I’d be willing to bet that he gets a lot of comparisons to Beck as well…which I think is apt in many ways…Ed definitely has that level of creative genius in him, there’s like, no doubt about that whatsoever. This title cut is freakin’ immaculate in its golden grooves and warm, inviting sound. EXCELLENT choices being made on the drums of this song…that big floor tom sound really punctuating the vibe on “So For Real” perfectly. But you could go with something like…maybe a combination of Sparklehorse and Toploader as well…you get that curious-indie sound of Sparklehorse and the straight-up magic of the hooks & all-inclusive atmosphere that Toploader became famous for. You’ll probably notice that most, if not all, of the comparisons I’ve made, all include an ‘ingredient A’ and ‘ingredient B’ – and those two poles of measurement are usually quite far apart…which is really what’s making the magic happen on this album from Ed for me. He’s right in the middle in the most accessible way I can think of, bridging gaps of all kinds, and yet still somehow leading the way to an all-new sound of his own – incredible! Where I’ve often pointed out that a title-tune has made many a band or artist crumble under the weight of the concept or ambition – THIS is what it sounds like when you truly rise to the challenge. There’s not a single time that I spun this album where I didn’t immediately want to turn “So For Real” right up to the rafters as loud as the volume could go…the inviting energy and vibe of this song is beyond perfection, full-stop. Subtle & charming beginning, once you hear how this bass, beat, vocal combination continues to evolve and you get a sense of where it’s going, you’ll fall right in love with the magic of this melody.
Embracing that psych-pop style & sound to end this record with a real nod to the classics, “Baby Blue Doll” is charming, sweet, fun, and just as addictive as literally ANY other tune on this record. I’ll admit, this tune is probably at the more playful end of Ed’s music…but I really don’t hear any way that someone could object to what they’d hear on this final tune…it’s unique to the album and still a progression that makes sense, even as wild & colorful as this idea becomes. I love that it also sounds like “Baby Blue Doll” could become even more in a live setting…as the song fades out at the end, you can hear that this jam was just about to take off into a whole second chapter of instrumentation…but that’s a mere reflection of the limitless ideas & possibilities for Ed’s music that have been on display at all times. Those of you that make your own music out there or write your own songs…those of you that understand truly what it takes to make a song come to life…you GOTTA love the execution and heart in a performance like you’ll hear on “Baby Blue Doll” – to know that looking at this on paper or somehow see it through Ed’s eyes before a note was ever played, knowing that it could become what it does…like I’ve said multiple times, he’s next-level when it comes to understanding what he’s capable of, straight-up.
Put it to you this way dear readers, dear friends…I don’t think there would be a top-ten list of the best albums of 2018 that would be complete without So For Real on it – this record is pure perfection. I’ll say this with full confidence – you’ll find him on ours when it gets announced this December. There’s simply no way that there can be another ten albums that would be better than this to knock him out of the running – I know that because he’s the kind of innovative, inventive & imaginative artist that truly only comes along once in a lifetime. Ed Hale is amazing and everyone involved with this record deserves a massive high-five and extreme accolades for the incredible accomplishment that So For Real seriously is.
Officially released on Dying Van Gogh Records and available now – do yourself a favor and go GET this album. Find out more about Ed Hale and find the new album So For Real from the links below!
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