Akinetic, the new album from Chicago songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Erik Hall's one-man polymathic project In Tall Buildings sees its creator plunge headlong into allegories of communication, loss, impulse, vice, and mass-denialism. With the addition of producer and engineer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine) Hall crashes through the aforementioned subject matter with brightness and lucidity, yielding his most intelligent and focused songwriting yet. Working out of his house with Deck in Pilsen, Chicago, Hall's efforts yield 10 tracks of spacious and textured handmade pop, comprising one of the most sharply written and deftly recorded home-studio albums in memory.
Album-starter "Beginning to Fade" gets to the point, offering a few seconds of growling guitar chords and piano before the hook bursts in declaring the tone of affairs. The title track follows with stabs of determined synth, painted over with Hall's verdant three-part harmonies bearing lyrics of one of the record's core ideas: anemic communication and frustrating disconnection in the age of distraction. The album continues on-theme exploring the struggle of impulse versus discipline on "Overconscious," and the mass-denial of highly probabilistic cataclysm on "Cascadia" whose title refers to the oft-overlooked Pacific Northwest subduction zone, arguably prone to catastrophic volcanic destruction any day now.
Understated breakthrough "Siren Song" propels on a motorik thump and mellotron that ramps to a gratifying collision of mangled drums and guitar; a moment of unrestrained catharsis on an otherwise satisfyingly groomed record. From here, the warm Moog-laden interlude "New Moon" marks the start of Akinetic's come-down, leading into the undeniably beautiful Heather Woods Broderick duet "Days in Clover." The epilogue "Wake Up" takes classic In Tall Buildings form with fluttering guitar, softly thumping drums, and Hall's trademark production flourishes. Tape-crushed voices chirp behind the instruments (all played by Hall, as per the rest of the album) as our host poetically urges us to do what the song's title suggests.
The lights slowly fade up on Akinetic showing it for exactly what it is: a crystal clear, well-crafted montage of honest emotion, with pointed social commentary crouching just beneath the topsoil. That this was all achieved by one person playing every instrument, gently guided by a kindred and veteran co-producer, denotes Akinetic as the greatest height yet reached for In Tall Buildings.