Stasis is a central theme in the way Hales Corner tells their story. In a bio from a year ago, they narrate how one half of the band, Caleb Adams, was driving across the country to move to LA and his car broke down twice. Instead of realizing the California dream, he stayed in Indiana, where he had grown up and attended college with bandmate Wesley Cook. The duo’s collaboration stemmed from the need to combat this “post-college apathy”—and with their full-length album, Garden View, they seem to have vanquished it.
A product of a particular time, though, this debut project deals in a good deal of malaise, immobility, dizziness, and any other word you might use to describe the state in which graduations leave their participants. It’s all visible in the mismatched puzzle pieces of the cover art and in the recurring character on the album, Josef K, probably borrowed from a Kafka protagonist on trial for a crime unknown to him. And it’s certainly audible in the music. Hales Corner sings with a clear but often weary voice, sometimes sounding like Devendra Banhart but without the youthful playfulness. Lyrics such as “Breaking my back for a glimpse of something sweet / I'm starving” fully acknowledge the circumstances from which they were born.
Despite the anguish in that line from “Pale Light,” as well as many others, Garden View never feels too heavy. Pushing against the muted vocals is another constant throughout the album, a bright guitar. While its lines are not exactly peppy, the guitar’s clear, lively sound suggests confidence and forward motion. There are even a couple guitar solos, on “Pale Light” and “Josef K,” and what says confidence—nay, bravado—like guitar solos?
The lyrics don’t entirely give into despair either. Adams and Cook composed Garden View with enough self-awareness, even humor, about their post-college condition that it never gets bogged down in cliché or comes across as overwrought. On “Hand Me Down,” for example, the need to accept the responsibility of age, a large theme, comes in the form of a simple coat: "Someone left their coat on my floor / But I’ve got to go and buy my own / I’m too old to grow into someone else's clothes / But I'll wear it now for a while." Later, they raise the stakes gracefully, singing, “I’d like to leave my mind in a jar of formaldehyde / And let my body roam until it dies"—a line that is simultaneously grotesque, surreally funny, and, probably even more so because of those two things, overwhelmingly depressing.
Also saving Garden View from heaviness is its underlying optimistic strain. The album title comes from the song of the same name (which we premiered last month), which is drawn from a line in the chorus: “That’s all right, I’m okay / A small one bedroom, with a garden view.” After two verses on this track and many more on the others about paralysis and shitty situations, the “garden view” is the light at the end of the tunnel. After producing a debut full-length—and a good one at that—it seems that everything really is all right for Hales Corner. They might not have made it to California, but they're okay.