Hanging Valleys – Fortaleza EP Review

Read our review of Fortaleza, the second EP from London based duo Hanging Valleys. The EP has already had an impressive one million plus streams, with Hanging Valleys receiving plays on Radio 1, Radio X, The Selector and Amazing Radio, as well as being a feature artist for BBC Introducing in London.  The band have played shows across the UK, Europe, and Mexico, including Latitude Festival, and have supported the likes of Patrick Watson, William Fitzsimmons, and Low Roar.

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Hanging Valleys is the the duo of Thom Byles and Michael Phillips.  Although Thom was schooled in Mexico, the pair met whilst working together in London, drawn together by the seemingly incongruous combination of a fondness for soft rock and peanut butter.

Fortaleza by Hanging Valleys

Fortaleza is their 2nd EP, and follows a four-track release in 2017, the very simply titled ‘EP’.  Three tracks off the new EP have already been released, including the title track, as well as ‘Fundamentals’ and ‘Arion’.  Completing the release is new track ‘The Weight’, as well as an instrumental titled ‘Jaguar Tones’.

Hanging Valleys are a band that knows their sound, such is the EP’s sonic consistency, a mesmerising combination of mellow guitars, haunting melodies and layered falsetto vocals.  Fortaleza is atmospheric, yet demands the listener’s attention with intricate but subtle crescendos and changes in intensity.  With clever production, a slight change in percussion or an electric guitar strummed with more fervour manages to have an enormous impact.

Such is the case in ‘The Weight’, which is comparatively upbeat, the electric guitar and percussion providing forward momentum, leading into what the band aptly describe as a ‘soft explosion’ around the three-minute mark.  As the name would suggest, ‘The Weight’ is lyrically solemn, the track opening with “Heavy the air, short breath, despair.” The ethereal vocals continuing “The weight is such that I don’t know if I can carry it all.”

Instrumental track ‘Jaguar tones’ is appropriately named, as it features the captivating playing of guitarist Mike Phillips and his Fender Jaguar.  The guitar is effected to be almost unrecognisable at times, swelling in and out like the waves on the shore, continuing the theme of water and oceans that is a feature.

Title track ‘Fortaleza’ begins with heavily reverbed acoustic guitar that is reminiscent of Bon Iver, the vocals perhaps more akin to Hanging Valleys other big influence, Swedish-Argentine singer José Gonzalez.  The accompanying film clip features stormy seas and Antarctic landscapes, yet the music is less like the barren freezing environment that the images suggest, the reverb laden guitar and falsetto vocals more like a warm blanket and an open fire.

Watch the video for Fortaleza by Hanging Valleys

Lyrically, ‘Fortaleza’ is about the metaphorical struggle to keep ones head above water, “The pull is real, we’ve known it from the start, to keep our heads above water”, singer Thom Byles closing with “I’ll weather all of the storms”.  The overarching message, according to the band, is one of hope and fortitude, as Byles states “getting the wind knocked out of your sails and having the resolve to persevere.”

‘Arion’ is the longest track on the EP, and slowly builds throughout, the vocals percussive in their layering and repetition, whilst ‘Fundamentals’ is the perfect opener, full of reverbed electric guitar and falsetto vocals.  Lyrically, ‘Fundamentals’ also introduces what is a theme throughout, one of equal parts sadness and positivity, “I’m told its fine, I’m told its part of living, grab hold, don’t you give in.” 

Listen to Fortaleza by Hanging Valleys on Spotify

Considering it was their shared love of soft rock and peanut butter that brought Hanging Valleys together, it is appropriate that their sound manages to be both uplifting and melancholy at the same time, a similarly incongruous but wonderful combination.

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Fortaleza is out now, and is available via the bands’ website, or Spotify.  For more information, including details of upcoming shows, head to Hanging Valleys Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pagesPrevious success and links to discover more from Hanging  Valleys

Words Nicholas Cheek