Yes Is The Answer is the debut album by Seattle’s Grand Hallway. Yet prior to its release, the band already had several international shows booked in Japan, a country from which they draw severe influence. Describing their music as Experimental Classical Pop, Grand Hallway blends piano-heavy orchestral instrumentals with Tomo Nakayama’s quivering alto vocals. The combination draws likely similarities to Sufjan Stevens and Anathallo. In comparison, the band’s music finds a home more experimental than the former and less high school orchestra than the latter.
After an 18 second opening track of the string section tuning, the group launches into the top three songs on the album: “Seward Park”, “Napoleon’s Left Shoe” and “Darling, Wife”. “Seward Park” is a soft pop tune containing the title lyrics Yes Is The Answer. Early on, the skill of percussionist Bob Roberts is apparent. Roberts keeps a steady double-timed beat throughout “Seward Park”; but what is more impressive are his regular fills between percussive phrases, not a common feature in more rock/pop oriented music.
“Napoleon’s Left Shoe” breaks away from the traditional pop found in “Seward Park” to include more experimental elements. Here Grand Hallway frequently and skillfully alters the time signature and tempo, adds a few segments of hand claps and foot stomps, and opens the vocals into a few select choruses of Able Was I / ‘Ere I Saw Alba / Able Was I. Messing with time and tempo is a tricky feat that can ruin a song, but Grand Hallway masters it here for a weighty accomplishment.
“Darling, Wife” opens erring on the minimalism of the softly played piano and quiet vocals of Nakayama with light traces of Jeramy Koepping on electric guitar. When the strings and percussion enter the song becomes slightly jazzy. It is here the Japanese elements are strongest, but the song quickly enters a third phase with a tensely reverberated guitar that grows and echoes in sound before dropping back to piano. Here Grand Hallway is at their most emotional and most experimental. The combination is powerful.
After the three power songs, the band takes a step back, throwing out the jazzy waltz “Piano Room” and the playful two-step “Giant Novels”. Both are creative, but none reach the height of the prior three. Like “Napoleon’s Left Shoe”, “Giant Novels” frequently alters time and tempo, going from a two-step to a one-three and back.
In “Minimum Wage” Nakayama takes an interesting turn, crafting his lyrics and vocals in a nature fans of Jeff Hanson may find familiar, though lacking the high soprano nature of Hanson’s singing voice. The song precedes a lovely Neil Young cover of “Philadelphia” in which Nakayama again reaches out solo on piano and vocals. Overall the album is quite a delight; though I would argue against some of the track placement as I find myself hovering around the early stages of the album and Yes Is The Answer deserves much more than that.
This review was originally published August 31, 2007 on the old version of FensePost. Grand Hallway has since released an EP and is preparing to give us their second full-length this year.
Sideout [CD, 2007]
1. (An Introduction)
2. Seward Park
3. Napoleon’s Left Shoe
4. Darling, Wife
5. Piano Room
6. Giant Novels
7. Waltz (On A Headache)
8. Smiles Through Stale Breadcrumbs
9. Minimum Wage
12. As A Tower