Music Reviews
Hallelujah Hell Yeah

String Machine Hallelujah Hell Yeah

(self-released) Rating - 8/10

String Machine has always made music fit for spring. Under the guidance of bandleader/vocalist David Beck, the collective’s new album Hallelujah Hell Yeah sounds as if it’s been poured over for years. It’s filled with gorgeous, folky indie rock that deserves to headline a festival near you. With a typical String Machine song, there’s always been a sense of balance: a tightrope between Beck’s earnest inner-monologue lyrics and the band’s penchant for twee arrangements and maximalism. Here, on the group’s third album, they’ve learned that this contradiction works best when pushed to the maximum. Beck’s ambling, poetic lyrics have never been more personal, uncertain, and downbeat, but Hallelujah Hell Yeah knows that the best backdrop for articulating insecurity is arena-ready hooks, giant choruses, and dense songs where you play with every bell and whistle in the studio.

In comparison to Death of the Neon, their breakout album, Beck and co. sound refreshed and ready to conquer the world. That 2018 album had plenty of exciting ideas, from the midwest-emo melodies of Death of the Neon (Pts. 1, 2, and 3) to the Decemberists-esque glory of Mara (In The Breeze), but parts of it fell into a mush of acoustic textures and average production. Some of this is still on display on Hallelujah Hell Yeah, but this album pops with a clearness and beauty that had been muddled in some of their previous work. With orchestrations galore, the Pittsburgh band takes it to the limit, ascribing a clarity and a sense of meaning to each horn part, brief harmony, fuzzy guitar outro, and piano interlude that appears.

Under the vague cover of indie folk, Hallelujah Hell Yeah is a surprisingly and beautifully varied album, wandering off in unexpected directions while still living under Beck’s unified vision. On lead single Gales of Worry, percolating synthesizers and thumping cellos come together into a tale of figuring out how to cope. Beck sounds genuinely exhausted when he sings “Yeah, I take another one down/I can’t pick myself up now,” but by the final chorus it becomes a mantra of confidence, like he was muttering it in order to accept it. There’s the Arcade Fire-esque forwardness of Soft Tyranny’s chorus, while Dark Morning (Magic) moves with an exciting conviction; the latter is in part thanks to Beck’s vocal delivery, which gives way to an explosive, punk freak-out of an ending. Hallelujah Hell Yeah returns to feeling beaten down and unconfident, but Dark Morning acts as a hint of hope. “I can’t give up now,” sings Beck, turning a vague statement into something beautiful by the sheer conviction of his performance.