Hiva Oa are an Edinburgh-based trio revolving around musicians known only as Stephen, Christian and Marco. Their material encompasses acoustic, post-rock and folk music. As the title of ‘The Awkward Hello, Handshake, Kiss’ suggests, this seems to be music for sensitive souls but there are plenty of shocks and surprises along the way.
What will strike listeners most about Hiva Oa is the level of intimacy they create. From the moment Stephen begins singing on ‘Clouds’ it’s as if we are privy to an intimate secret, whilst his guitar plays the barest of melody and Christian’s cello joins in close by. ‘The Minder’ sounds even more like a secret conversation, with an uncredited female singer providing a gorgeous trembling vocal. Contrast this with the violent abandon of ‘These Hands’ and you have a very intense, emotional opening to the record.
The second half is more experimental (not that the first half sticks to any safe formula, it must be stressed). ‘Mindful Of’ is like waking up on an early morning and peering through a haze of shoegaze and drone. ‘Badger’ uses a disorientating mix of loops, cello and distant cries as if representing being lost in the woods, then a wave of crashing percussion adds a brutal end to the melodrama.
In conclusion, ‘The Awkward Hello…’ is a compelling listen, whether the messages are delivered in a conciliatory whisper or a blast of noise. At their quietest, they resemble a British version of Low but when they’re loud, they emulate early Hood.
Low, Hood, Shoeb Ahmad, Talk Talk