On the press release for Kim Halliday’s Birdsong in Mist, it says “File Under: Classical [Contemporary and Avant Garde].” While you’re at it, however, please also file it under “Experimental,” “Electronic,” and “Face-Bashing All-Out Guitar Assault.” Because that’s what you’ll be getting on this deliciously and intriguingly diverse disc. With a background scoring music for movies, TV, and multimedia, Halliday rolls out a broad arsenal and opens it up fully in these 15 tracks. The classical music framework is distinctly there, existing pretty much to allow Halliday to subvert and challenge it, along with our perceptions of it, in manners that range from the subtle to the dramatically overt. It begins right away with the echoing piano and intruding secondary melody in “Development of Late.” While the primary song carries the straightforward feel of a nocturne, the sustain of echoes and the subtle-at-first insistence of the underlying motif take the simply familiar and force a re-think–or, at the least, a more careful listen. “Silver” takes a lively, almost folksy dance and spatters it with a sequenced-sounding underscore. Halliday plays with the sound of piano, muting it in spots. Again, the familiarity of the main piece fights for focus, and it’s that conflict that creates the newer concept in your head. I also like the willful dissonance and toy-piano tinniness banging away in “If I” as runaway scales trip from high to low. The ballad-esque title track plays the same game with your head. Here the main song is straight New Age piano; the backdrop whistles and sings in counterpoint. But it’s not all pianos-and-stuff. Halliday throws in fresh ideas throughout the disc. “Eastern Games” sneaks in with pinging chimes, rising drones, and an interesting sense of tension. It stands out for being the first track without immediately recognizable piano. It’s a hmmm moment that piques the attention. “Loss” is infused with a laid-back sense of sadness and a slowly tapped-out beat. Yawning chords wah along behind it. (Here I throw in an obscure reference to a personal favorite: the sound reminds me Radium 88.) And then…talk about a shift. With “November Falling Fast,” Halliday takes an abrupt turn and busts out a fuzzed-out, growling guitar. It chews its way over a droning bottom layer, spewing rock ‘n’ roll attitude. And that’s him just getting warmed up. Its follow-up, “Steel Eye,” is full-on post-arena-rock built on thick power chords and a too-cool bass line and just a hint of B3 sound. It’s pure infection, and I can’t listen to it just once. (Oh, wait til you get to the snare bursts…)
At the heart of Birdsong in Mist is Halliday’s splendid playing. His piano work runs deep with emotion; his use of the space between notes is potent. The range of instrumentation and breadth of style speaks to his talent. (In case you’re looking for a score for your next high-tension film scene, you’ll want to have a listen to the very dramatic “Victim Selection.”) What’s more, he crams these 15 fully realized vignettes into less than an hour’s time and nothing feels rushed or lacking. I’ve given Birdsongs in Mist a lot of listen-time since it arrived, and it just gets better the more and the deeper I listen.
Available from Kim Halliday’s web site.