On October 6th, American abstract artist and Hawk bandleader David Hawkins will release the stunning third album of his orchestral art-rock supergroup Be, Here, a lush and intricate song cycle inspired by The Beach Boys’ classic Pet Sounds and dedicated to Brian Wilson, though one can also hear traces of mystical Beatles psychedelia and The Velvet Underground’s tangled hum among its influences. (A companion album, There, featuring Hawkins’ recordings in Morocco with The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar, the legendary Moroccan Sufi Trance band known for their collaborations with Brian Jones, the Rolling Stones and Ornette Coleman and 2023 recipients of the Kennedy Center Gold Medal of the Arts Award, is due out next year.)
Besides Hawkins, Here features rock luminaries Morgan Fisher (Mott the Hoople, Queen), Brian Wilson’s musical director Paul Von Mertens, the legendary drummer Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello, Elliot Smith), guest vocals by Gary Louris of the Jayhawks among others, and was mastered and co-mixed by Mike Hagler (Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Mekons). With the highly anticipated Here, Hawkins’ musical vision continues to expand, again proving himself to be a formidable rising voice in American music.
Hawkins began writing and recording Here in the fraught early days of the pandemic, crafting the songs and arrangements for days on end, absorbed in the process. Over the weeks and months, as he added layer after layer and started incorporating the other musicians’ parts, it evolved into a rich musical tapestry. There‘s a lush dream-like quality and otherworldly beauty to the album, with moments of touching vulnerability and of the raw emotions we all felt in those first weeks of COVID.
With themes like the triumph of love and hope in the face of our deepest fears, of yearning for deep connection with others and with the Spiritual, one catches glimpses of mystical vistas in these songs. Cosmic harmonies shimmer atop tapestries of timpani, brass and orchestra, punctuated with electronics, mellotron, vibes and even harp. Mertens’ vibrant horn arrangements and delicate finesse of the woodwinds shine, and he and trumpet player Max Crawford, both fresh off Wilco’s phenomenal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot residency in New York City, add a bright warmth and power with their lines, with the whole ensemble delighting us at every turn. This is a rich and dense song cycle full of depth and wonder. Put it on and let it take you away.
The album kicks off with “I Need You Like The Sun”, a tangly raga drone that quickly escalates into a VU- inspired primal pounding groove, with squeals of e-bow guitar and spoken word murmurings while Hawkins’ vocals transcend the din with their emotional intensity. “Don’t Cry” dazzles with it’s irresistible pop exuberance, soaring melodies and message of reassurance and love, familiar like a long-lost classic.
When the drum and horn intro of “Shine Your Love Light” kicks in, soaring Pet Sounds-esque harmonies envelope you, with Hawkins‘ and Gary Louris’ sublime layered vocals resonating on the message of celebrating the light in a lovers’ eyes. “Am I Not Dreaming” casts a spell of rhythmic imagination and love over a bed of rolling timpani and horns that blow through the yearning vocals like a warm summer breeze.
The infectious shuffle of “Mad About Zoe” recalls the Kinks in its lazing strut, while the epic “Can Dreams Come True” dives into an Indian mysticism reminiscent of George Harrison’s enlightened drones. This Rumi-like meditation envisions the Divine as a lover, a common theme in Hawkins’ work, which creates layers of meaning and archetypes in his songs.
“When You Shine” glows with the warmth of a cherished memory and feels like a cross between classic Bread and the Velvet Underground’s tender third album (one of Hawkins’ favorite records) and tips it’s hat to the great Leonard Cohen with a reference to Tea and Oranges. “All Alone With You” starts with a flute Mellotron that vaguely recalls the rich tone of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” then opens up into a lush, romantic paean to love and connection.
“Superterranean Homesick Blues”, which uses being in space as a metaphor for the isolation of lockdown, is one of the albums’ standout tracks. Morgan Fisher’s piano and bass harmonica fill out the dynamic Beach Boys’ bounce that the band channels, with Regan Souders’ bass and the vibrant woodwinds and horns leading the song to a dynamic climax. “No Way To Say Goodbye” is a gorgeous and soulful song about the passage of time and of regretful goodbyes, sounding like a long-forgotten Nick Drake song in its lush melancholy and showcasing Hawkins at his songwriting best.
“Only Time Will Tell” opens with a repeated line about William Blake’s writings on Innocence and expands into an interlocking vocal patterns while Hawkins ponders whether the current reality is “Heaven or Hell / It’s kind of hard to tell”. Grounded by the masterful drumming of the great Pete Thomas, chiming vibes, an intuitive B3 organ line and rolling timpanis below, this is truly a feast for the ears. “Falling In Love With You” feels like it’s been here forever; a modern love song with a pure heart and touching vulnerability about the hope, fear and reciprocal support in that unprecedented moment.
“You’re My Everything” is a sweet and profound message from father to daughter that speaks to the depth and magnitude of that love and the sacrifices he would make for it, while Zach Werner’s gorgeous cello flows beneath. The numinous Indian vibrations return as the sprawling “Don’t Keep Me Waiting” and “Waiting Reprise” wind down the album with a serpentine raga groove that starts softly and then builds to a powerful crescendo featuring Randy Morris’s masterful hand drum and tabla work and Matthew Pittman’s moving Bouzouki and guitar before descending into a sublime calm, rolling softly to its conclusion.
Here is truly a world in itself and an album for the ages. Written during one of the darkest moments in our collective history, it shines with the brightness of the sun and is destined to be an instant classic. In a world that can seem increasingly hopeless, Here is a ray of light and a pure shot of love. It lifts you up and takes you on a sonic and emotional journey of great magnitude. Put it on, turn it up, and be here now. (Headphones recommended.)