To the casual follower of Haley Bonar (real name Haley McCallum), a fully instrumental album like Pleasureland will seem like it has come out of left field. However, in truth, the clues were there as far back as 2011’s debut Golder with its moody instrumental pieces hidden away inside. This album, released as the punchier Haley, takes that inclination to its logical conclusion, offering a fascinating and atmospheric view on the world.
Starting with 68 seconds of psychedelic Stanley Kubrick-esque keyboard swirls of ‘Credit Forever Part 1’, before settling into the beautiful piano of ‘Give Yourself Away’, Pleasureland invites the listener to build their own storyline to Haley’s work. It is rich and thoughtful, though still possessing a dark side. ‘Future Maps’ feels like a dream state, a guitar line cutting in just loud enough to prevent too much of a reverie setting in. Flowing into ‘Syrup’, a slight sense of unease follows as an injection of fuzzy guitar settles over everything, emerging out from the gloaming before departing with a banshee’s shriek.
Though accompanied at points by the multi-talented Jeremy Ylvisaker and Low’s Steve Garrington on bass, it is very much the Haley show. Mixed by Shuta Shinoda (Ghostpoet), there is more than a little of Brian Eno about the mood that the production provides. Despite its short running time (27 minutes), it is in no rush and the wordlessness only intensifies the senses around it. ‘Pig Latin’ has a gently stunning saxophone piece from Mike Lewis running through it, accompanied by calming piano. Eyes closed, you could easily be in a jazz bar such is its evocative nature. That theme continues into ‘Double Dutchess’, the piano rippling and cascading, dancing and delaying.
To call a record a piece of art is an often-overused piece of hyperbole. However, here, it holds true. The distorted child’s voice that is contained within ‘Next Time (For C)’ asks more questions than it offers answers, whether it is portraying feelings of joy, grief, sadness or happiness. Meanwhile, the two parts of the phenomenal title track surely herald a future in film soundtracks for McCallum. Fittingly, the masterful and intimate ‘Lonely As A Mother’ and ‘Snake Moon’ evoke the same heightened emotions as the great Ludovico Einaudi.
The context and very nature of Pleasureland means of course that it may not be for everyone. For those willing to sink into its warm embrace, however, the cumulative effect is one of beauty and stillness at its heart from an artist willing to take risks and embrace the new.