Four In The Morning is an alt-folk band based in Melbourne, Australia, debuting with the EP Half Asleep. Drawing on folk, ambient rock, and jazz rhythms, the band’s sound is that of rich, cacophonous, but surprisingly direct rock; the band claims Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and The National as influences on the record, and that inspiration is apparent.
“Terrified” opens the record, further encouraging comparisons to The National’s dense arrangements and raw emotion. Kevin Dolan’s vocals have a broad range in both timbre and emotion, and the atmospheric elements mesh well with the track’s more traditional piano-heavy rock structure. By the end of the song there’s a huge brass arrangement over the churning rock instrumental, giving further warmth and punch to the track.
“Lavender” is a straightforward piano track, moving at a deliberate pace while Dolan sings in a low register. The refrain lands nicely, and gives the record its name: “All i ever wanna be / Is the name you mutter in the dark / When you’re half asleep.” As the strings grow underneath the piano part, the song gradually rises in intensity, but it happens so slowly that the song begins to lose impact a bit. The climax does work, though, due especially to backing vocals from members Libby Ferris and Kiran Srinivasan.
“Bigger Fire” implements some heavily effected electric guitar as a backdrop for a piano-and-acoustic-guitar arrangement. Dolan’s vocal recalls Springsteen at his most introspective, but again the arrangement is static, robbing the later instrumental section of its potency by making it seem more of the same. Though pleasant and dreamy, the track meanders without too much dynamism.
“Second Hand Coat” has a quicker, bouncy verse led by a chiming delayed guitar. The gentle overdrive on the guitar adds a subtle dynamic shift to the chorus with Dolan’s lead vocals seeming more plaintive and less gruff. It makes for a nice change of energy from the previous two tracks.
“Five Miles With Frank” begins in 7/4 time, bringing in a stilted, jarring element, but the song switches to something more traditional for the chorus section. The two sections feel very different, but the loose feel and straightforward rock instrumentation bridge them rather successfully. Though it may be their least atmospherically rich track, the song most clearly shows the blend of classic and forward-thinking composition, the band’s biggest strength on the EP.
“On Raglan Road” is once again a wistful piano-led dirge, meeting somewhere between Leonard Cohen, ambient rock, and sea shanties. Here the delicate guitar lines buoy the track, offering a push-and-pull that keeps the slow song dynamic. With more understated vocals, and some musical moments nearly inaudible, the track leans heavily on the hushed end of the band’s particular loud-quiet-loud aesthetic. It definitely brings the EP down gently, making a stronger impact than a bombastic piece would, and highlighting the group’s clear grasp of the emotional tenor of their music.
Half Asleep does have its drowsy moments, but the EP also displays flashes of compositional and stylistic aptitude. Four In The Morning has a keen ear for marrying tried-and-true rock songwriting and ethereal atmospherics, and the powerful breadth of vocal expression brings an immediacy to the work. When the band is on its best foot, Half Asleep is an easy and rewarding listen.
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