There are fleeting moments in life where everything seems just right. You’re lying in the grass, a gentle breeze blowing across your face, and the afternoon sun creates a beautiful painting, spectacularly lighting the trees, which shimmer as the wind rustles their leaves. Chills run up and down your spine as everything seems to sit in its proper place, and you feel inexplicably content. And in the One A.M. Radio’s A Name Writ in Water, Hrishikesh Hirway created the soundtrack for those moments.
The One A.M. Radio is essentially Hirway with the occasional help from a violinist (specifically Jane Yakowitz) here or a trumpeter there. The sonics are well traveled; A Name Writ in Water consists primarily of acoustic guitars decorated with electronic trimmings. What makes Hirway’s project stand above similar ventures is the consistency of his voice and vision throughout the album. The organic and the artificial exist in impeccable equilibrium as Hirway attempts to make sense of his relationship to the rest of the world — which he does in an intensely absorbing manner.
The production is flawless, thanks to mastering by electro veteran John Tejada and mixing assistance from occasional Prefuse 73-consort Daedelus. You needn’t look further than the stunning opener "What You Gave Away." Reverberating guitars bleed into the cracks as a quietly clanging beat keeps time for Hirway’s lamentations: "I can’t repay/ What you gave away/ They say the fire goes out on a star long before/ We know of the light that shines down on us below." The lyrics here, like those throughout the album, are poetic without being pretentious, the music melancholic without being overdramatic.
From there Hirway moves in different but vaguely related directions. There are string-infused glitchy instrumentals ("Shivers"), tranquilizing drone-folk ("Drowsy Haze"), and minor-key ballads with Elliott Smith whispers ("Forests Burned"). "Buried Below" is probably the most straightforward and natural tune on the album, with ties closer to the ’70s singer/songwriter aesthetic than modern folk-pop. Hirway even fits in a clanging pop tune, "Those Distant Lights," that at first sounds out of place, but once he starts singing of the possibility that the big, bad world might hold a beauty of its own, its place on A Name Writ in Water becomes more logical.
The finale, "Untied," likens death to the flight of a balloon; all that’s required to fly into the ether is to release your memory, to allow you to start over: "We’ll cut the strings/ We’ll kiss the ground goodbye … We never die/ We simply get untied." The hiccupping beat delicately drops you back to reality at the end of the record.
Answers to questions of life and existence are, of course, non-existent. But through Hirway’s eyes we see that though the search may never yield a concrete answer, the examination holds some value of its own. A new way of looking at the same old thing is just as good as looking at a new thing altogether. With this record, Hirway submerges life on Earth just below the water’s surface. While the record plays, the sun and shadows dance back and forth, creating brilliant patterns of light and intriguing streaks of darkness — and for about 36 minutes, everything is right with the world.