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Hour Press Photo 2 cred Greg Rutkin.JPG

Immediate, passionate, occasionally dissonant, open, open, open, and very often sublime, Ease the Work is an undeniably grand statement from the instrumental ensemble Hour. Conceived by composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Michael Cormier-O’Leary (Friendship, 2nd Grade, Dear Life Records) and delivered live by nine musicians in early 2023, Ease the Work is where breathy timbre and cinematic swoon factor meet in communion. Atmosphere and old school melody shake hands. Nice seeing you again.

To record Ease the Work, the crew traveled via ferry with an entire studio’s worth of equipment to an old theater on Peaks Island in Maine, months before the first tourists would show up. The week-long session started with an island-wide power outage that halted recording on the first day, and ended with twelve songs that walk steadily between longing and contentment, sentimentality and subtlety, the lift of harmony and the compulsion of a melody you wish would play forever.

Formed in the flourishing underground of West Philadelphia in the latter half of the 2010s, Hour has fluctuated in size and scope around Cormier-O’Leary’s clear yet open-ended harmonic framework and ambitious ear. Ease the Work builds on the bedrock of Hour’s first two records, Tiny Houses and Anemone Red, and represents the group at its most expansive in sound and membership. Ten musicians, heads from punk, experimental, and classical scenes up and down the east coast, made up the band at Hour’s August ‘23 residency in Queens, New York. The stage wasn’t big enough. The string section had to set up on the floor. Cormier-O’Leary has contributed notably across the landscape of independent music, and Hour is living, breathing, deep listening proof of his community-minded ethos.

Hour’s music cuts a broad pathway, and remains hard to classify or compare. Perhaps most at home beside work from Bill Frisell, Eiko Ishibashi, ECM Records, or the Louisville experimental chamber group Rachel’s, Ease the Work shows us life on the boundary of composition and improvisation. It reaches for the sweeping gestures and inspired pacing of classic film scores, Frank Sinatra ballads, and Scott Walker’s pop orchestra. It also retains the arresting intimacy of the band’s early work. Strings swell and harmonize in counterpoint with electric guitar, clarinet, and piano, while drums, synth pads, and field recordings complete the aural world. Cormier-O’Leary says, “it isn’t a soundtrack. If it was, there would be a movie.” Ease the Work might be its own movie. The protagonist walking. A gorgeous day darkening. A cat in the window. Always strange, always familiar. Sometimes struggling. Sometimes eroding into disorder. Sometimes pressing on, lifting up. Never quite into heaven. Always into beauty.

releases on DLR:

DLR051: Ease the Work

DLR047: Tiny Houses / Anemone Red 5th Anniversary Reissue

DLR BTL 001: Hour @ Boot and Saddle 12/7/2019

photo by Greg Rutkin

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