Ari Hest - Shouts and Whispers
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: June 8, 2014
In the early aughts (00’s) Ari Hest had it easy. While John Mayer and Jason Mraz were making waves churning acoustic rock into radio gold, Hest found himself a major label deal. 2004’s Someone To Tell was a study, confident effort from the New York singer-songwriter that pointed towards hints of greatness. A second major label effort, 2007’s The Break-In soon followed and Hest seemed well on his way to making a dent somewhere on the Billboard charts. But the exact opposite happened. The Break-In marked his last foray with the corporate suits and Hest went about making albums on his own terms, dabbling in co-writes and doing whatever he could to keep his head above water.
Nearly a decade later, the industry scenery has changed. With the advent of both indie-folk and EDM competing for top dollar, Hest found himself independent and crowd-sourcing. His eighth album, Shouts and Whispers, made via PledgeMusic donations, is easily his best album to date and the first since The Break-In that finds Hest tapping into something both accessible, immediate and promising. Often criticized as being too earnest, Shouts and Whispers is clear, direct and deeply moving.
The disc opens with the twinkly “Harvest,” a song that opens with just Hest and his powerhouse baritone before segueing into an airy stew of shimmering guitars, celestial piano and a gossamer veneer that seems tailor-made for a Sunday evening stroll in Greenwich Village. Drawing on the same sonic landscape as its predecessor, “Here To Be Forgotten,” pushes for the same vibe but digs a bit deeper, due in large part to a rising chorus and some indelible piano lines.
The disc’s first half concludes with “Middle Man” and “Covering Up.” The former is a swirling current of buoyancy that is both slow-moving and decidedly British. One can’t be certain if Hest took his cue on Shouts and Whispers from the likes of Peter Gabriel or Tears for Fears, but the song’s celestial leanings has a vibe that definitely pays homage to those distinctly British sounds. While it can be argued that much of the album draws on these same sonic tomes, “Middle Man” is the first song that does it in such a distinct manner. “Covering Up” on the other hand is a romantic and yearning effort about the furtive nature of a blossoming romance. Hest has always had a keen and perceptive eye for the nuances of the human condition and “Covering Up” is another effort that proves just how introspective Hest can be.
After a thirty-second interlude (which unoriginally bears that very title), Side B opens with “Less,” a homespun acoustic affair that proves how powerful just a voice and a guitar can be. Ostensibly a paean to counting one’s blessings and cherishing the small moments, it is as perfect as a song can get. No overtly witty lines, no bells or whistles, just a man, his guitar and his comforting words. The barren and stark “Into the Empty White” begins similarly to “Less” but chases after something a bit more playful, a bit more vernal and a bit more triumphant. Piano, which has been a hallmark of this album to date, once again makes a brief cameo and gives the song some additional ebulliency.
After the disappointment of the unneeded “How We’ll Always Be,” a song that sounds little different from much of Hest’s back-catalog, he returns to form on the brilliant “Bona Fide,” an open-hearted foray into daydreaming and 1970s era folk that does very little if any wrong. Ditto for the plaintive and pensive “No One Can Stay.” Though it can be argued it is as much a throwaway as “How We’ll Always Be,” a gentle piano helps rescue it from the depths of disappointment. Shouts and Whispers concludes with the near-perfect “After the Thunder,” a piano ballad that takes its cues from both “Harvest” and “Less” and revisits just how impacting Hest and his voice truly are.
Though it probably has little chance of entering into the mainstream, Shouts and Whispers is a sterling effort from a seasoned performer who knows his way around a song. Nothing about the album is extravagant. In fact, its subtlety and understatement is what makes it so magnetic. More than a decade removed from his dalliance with the big-time, Hest is more than comfortable making albums on his own terms. And if they’re as expertly crafted as Shouts and Whispers, well then, hot damn, us music listeners, are pretty damn fortunate.
[fs=Tracklisting] 1. Harvest
2. Here To Be Forgotten
3. Middle Man
4. Covering Up
7. Into the Empty White
8. How We’ll Always Be
9. Bona Fide
10. No One Can Stay
11. After the Thunder