Halls is a musical idea that seems intended and orchestrated specifically for a particular kind of audience: those with a passion for modern classical, post-dubstep, and ambient-pop. The one responsible for it, young Sam Howard (21), who has a very bright future in front of him, is 'one of ours': his game plan is, first of all, to translate a mental state to music; the mind set of going back home after a busy day, the never-ending trip during which melancholy takes over from physical tiredness and any setback, no matter how tiny, experienced during the day (discussions, pressure, misunderstandings on Whatsapp) gets blown way out of proportion. “Ark”, the British singer and producer's beautiful debut album, appeals to urban desolation, an abstract concept defined over the past few years by people like Burial. It does so with a comforting palette of influences and a sound that deserves to be highlighted.
To sum up and classify Hall's sound, we only have to listen to “White Chalk”, the first single taken from “Ark”: it starts with a single piano and the voice, openly reminiscent of Thom Yorke, even in the falsetto. The beat kicks in shortly after, as a clear hint at James Blake and then a sacred choir, making the connection with Arvo Pärt and modern classical. And it all ends in a climax that is hard to resist. This song is the key moment on the LP, especially because it lays the foundations of his sound with a level of expressive and emotional perfection that we won't hear on the album again. Not because Howard lacks the inspiration, but because he distributes his influences in other ways. Burial, James Blake, Radiohead, Mark Hollis, Max Richter and Fennesz, are the clues to get an idea of which way this first full-length is going, and they come out throughout the record, but unlike on “White Chalk”, where they're all gathering and walking around, on the rest of the “Ark” they appear on their own.
“Shadow Of The Colossus”, a memorable tribute to one of the most exciting and fascinating video games ever, for example, takes its cue from Thom Yorke in his solo disguise, just like “Funeral” is much in debt with “Untrue”, and “Roses For The Dead” stresses the weight of James Blake in the sound of this project. And that's possibly the only 'but' here: one gets the feeling that “Ark” is a sum of ideas and influences, displayed in orderly fashion, but not a perfectly fitting and put together whole, where all the elements feed off and complement each other. Nevertheless, this debut holds enough promise so as to keep a close eye on Howard, a better producer and writer than a singer, a better orchestrator of feelings and emotions than a songwriter, and one of the big hopes of European electronic pop.