Hidden States – the artist formerly known as County Line Runner – picks up his post-pandemic thread
Release Date: 31st March 2023
Label: Humming Records
Formats: Download, Streaming
That damned pandemic certainly has a lot to answer for.
Back in 2018, Hidden States, aka Adam Day, was working under the guise of County Line Runner, and doing very well, thank you very much. He’d taken his first, tentative, steps as a recording artist, releasing two tracks – Hard To Find and Wide Eyes – and was starting to accumulate a whole posse of influential admirers, including Marcus Mumford, producer Stephen Street and Alex da Kid. Before he knew it, he and his band were whisked away to support Neil Young and, in late 2019 – before his feet had had time to re-establish meaningful contact with Planet Earth, the debut, self-titled County Line Runner EP was released to widespread approval. All was set fair. Surely. Wasn’t it?
Well, not quite, as it happened, because, in early 2020, along came you-know-what, and out through the locked-down window went Adam’s bulging diary of gigs, festival appearances and recording plans. Shit.
And so, here we all are, 3 years down the line, and Adam, working now under his new alias as Hidden States is picking up where he left off, with his new, Bill Ryder Jones-produced EP, Reconcile. And it’s a Doozie!
25 or so years ago, the young Adam was first influenced to try his hand at songwriting after hearing the Oasis tune, Live Forever, on the radio – an experience he’s been known to describe as “A lightning bolt moment.” Well, any Britpop or Beatlesque aspirations that Adam may have once held have certainly worked their way through the system now; the songs on Reconcile take their cue from a much earlier stage of UK musical history – the early 1980s, I’d say. The music of Hidden States has attracted comparisons with The National, The War On Drugs, Coldplay and U2 and each of those comparisons – The War On Drugs in particular – is evident on Reconcile. But, if pressed, I’d have to suggest that the influences that struck me most vividly are probably Joy Division and Lou Reed, with a bit of Dylan lyricism thrown in for good measure. On Reconcile, Hidden States has managed to take the bleak, desperate electronica of 1982 and to infuse it with poppy, sometimes almost folky melodicism. And it works a treat!
We had a preview of the EP’s opening track, Fix To Fix, when it was released as a single back in early February. It’s a sparse, yet infectious, number that has been described as “…occupying the liminal state between U2’s The Unforgettable Fire and Coldplay’s Parachutes.” That’s a pretty fair evaluation, to which I’d also add a spoonful of Unknown Pleasures. The mundanity of a Thatcher winter is captured and bottled by the throbbing bassline, the metronomic drumbeat, the distant yet insistent guitar licks and, particularly, the song’s “You don’t carry the world like that,” refrain. The acoustic guitars – low in the mix, yet as visible and enticing as a distant beach would be to a shipwrecked sailor – are as welcome as they are unexpected.
The tense, slow-building Valley Song recalls a period of Adam’s life when, aged 14, he was uprooted from his familiar home surroundings to go off to live with an Aunt. The song has a distant resemblance to Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower and the sound offers a good blend of acoustic guitars and full-bore electronica, with Adam’s voice well forward in the mix.
The EP’s current single, Lost Wave, explores themes of “personal impotence in the face of destiny,” though, as Adam is keen to point out, “Not necessarily in a bad or miserable way, because it can be very liberating to know, and all the bad stuff isn’t there forever anyway.” The song is poppy and immediately likeable, guitar driven and peppered with lots of tasty keyboard licks. Adam has, in the past, cited Lou Reed as an early influence, and that influence is clearly identifiable here; indeed, if it wasn’t for the 80s drum sound, Lost Wave could almost be passed off as a lost track from Transformer!
Plastic Palm Trees – a title inspired by a toy that Adam’s son was playing with as Adam wrote the song – was Adam’s last pre-pandemic gesture. Released as a single in early 2020 immediately before lockdown, when Adam was still trading as County Line Runner, it’s a thoughtful, ponderous, almost anthemic number, well worthy of its revived inclusion here. Built around an insistent, solid guitar riff and laced with lots of other interesting guitar sounds, the tune is given real substance by the swooping, rumbling bassline.
When asked to summarise the theme of this EP, Adam explained: “The EP is about dealing with your demons, the ghosts of your memory.” He goes on to say that: “I chose to put [title track] Reconcile last [in the EP’s running order] because, if it comes at all, reconciliation always comes at the end.” Well – there’s the poetic reason for the song’s position, but I also suspect there was also an element of the old trick of saving the best till last, when those running order considerations were made. Reconcile is probably the EP’s prime example of Adam’s ability to merge folk and electronica, as the song switches back and forth between the contrasting confessional styles of Dylan and Ian Curtis and the song’s anguished lyrics – “You don’t wanna know what your daddy’s done, you don’t wanna know what he’s overcome. Just wanna see the world like a child, Just wanna reconcile” sit equally comfortably in both camps. It’s a fine ending to a fascinating collection. I’ve heard whispers that a full-length Hidden States album may be somewhere in the offing… If such gossip has any substance, I for one will be in the queue to have a serious listen.
Watch the official video to Lost Wave – the current single from the EP – here:
Categories: EP Review