Hiraeth: a word without a concrete English translation. While evading an unequivocal definition, it exudes melancholy. Those who have attempted to define it describe the word as a mixture of homesickness, nostalgia, grief, and longing. It is the oppressive guilt associated with memories now passed; the bitter remembrance of joyous occasions that can never be revisited.
It is also the title of Shy, Low’s upcoming full-length album, due November 13th on Spartan Records. Although a band since 2011, Shy, Low has only released one other full-length album, their 2012 self-titled debut. The six new songs on Hiraeth mark the first new music from the band since 2013’s Binary Opposition EP. Much of this can be attributed to the deliberate nature of the band’s songwriting process.
The album was written during the latter months of 2013 and throughout 2014 and was recorded, produced, and mixed in the band’s hometown of Richmond, VA with longtime friend Allen Bergendahl at Scott’s Addition Sound. The first song written for the record was the closing track, "Times Gone By.” It left each member of the band feeling strangely nostalgic, invoking a sense of happiness for past pleasures that was accompanied by an underlying sadness for the inability to relive those experiences. And so it set the tone for the rest of the album. As a whole, the songs on Hiraeth distinguish themselves from the band’s previous efforts. Notably, there is much more movement and less focus on drawn out explosive episodes – although a few do exist. Additionally, the tracks are lighter and move along quicker than the band’s past songs. However, those moments of increased tempo are kept in check by calculated transitions to darker sections, a method devised by the band in an attempt to capture the nostalgic feel of the record — the bipolar tendencies of joy and grief that are inseparable aspects of our memories. The band also added new textural dimensions to the album, employing local violinist Jessika Blanks to provide string arrangements on five of the six tracks.
Just like the word Hiraeth itself, Shy, Low’s continual evolution make them a band that is not easy to define. While it would be convenient to corral the band into the bucket of canonical post-rock bands like Mono, Mogwai, and This Will Destroy You, on Hiraeth, Shy, Low’s eclectic palate of musical influences are showcased more broadly than ever before. The band earnestly sifts through the complex relationship between music, art, and the emotions that encapsulate the human experience — and in doing so, they’ve successfully created a brilliantly moving, yet strangely bittersweet 43 minute aural journey. Look for Hiraeth this fall on limited edition vinyl, CD, and at digital retailers everywhere and visit spartanrecords.com for more information, upcoming tour dates, new music, and more.