Ottawa singer/songwriter emmersonHALL goes track-by-track through his self-titled debut album – a tender, intimate, and expansive introduction that shines with a radiant warm inner light and alt-folk charm.
Stream: “Kindergarten” – emmersonHALL
Listening to Cole Emmerson Hallman’s debut album is like peeking back at a dear friend’s diary.
The music is warm, gentle, and surprising in a sweet way. The stories are familiar and smile-inducing – it’s as though we’re experiencing life anew through Hallman’s eyes – and by the time the record ends, he’s closer to be a confidante than a stranger. Such is the power of song that we can feel so connected to someone else through time and space; it’s a true testament to Hallman’s intimate, evocative storytelling abilities that he creates a world that feels uniquely his own. The Canadian singer/songwriter shines with radiant, tender indie/alt-folk charm on his self-titled emmersonHALL, a delicate, beautifully vulnerable, and sonically expansive introduction.
Get on bus and walk to back
But Kindergartens can’t do that
Driver calls me to the front
Why can’t I sit where I want
Get to school don’t recognize
Anyone with mother’s eyes
I won’t let my tear ducts open
Not on my first day
Stomach hurts it’s not my tummy
I don’t think it’s cute or funny
Using words I’ve been rehearsing
You’ll talk to me like a person
Released July 14, 2023 via Club Records – the Ottawa-based indie record label recently started by Hannah Judge (fanclubwallet) and Michael Watson (Chemical Club, Preloved) – emmersonHALL is an inviting, engaging first look at Cole Hallman’s multifaceted musical world.
A relatively new name on the indie scene, emmersonaHALL debuted in late 2022 with the four-track EP, Ography. The project of Ottawa, Ontario Cole Hallman delivers deeply visceral, delicate, and moving indie rock and alt-folk music that hits where it hurts. Hallman worked together with Michael Watson (Chemical Club, Preloved) to produce his first album, getting together every Thursday (his only day off from work) for six months. His debut album, he says, is a creative smorgasbord – a smattering of moments, both musical and anecdotal, pulled from his formative years and influenced by artists like Wilco, The Microphones, and Wednesday.
“I’m not sure there’s a strong overarching narrative to the record, at least not one I recognize right now,” he tells Atwood Magazine. “I think it will all look very cohesive and whole looking back on it when I’m older, but right now it feels like a relatively erratic, slice of lifestyle effort. It did come together as a bunch of stuff in my life was changing, graduation and moving house and changing relationships and stuff like that. I’m a very different guy now than I was when I started the record.”
“I wanted this record to be really experimental and to do a lot of studio magic and layering – Wilco is my favourite band and I will forever just be trying to make Yankee,” he laughs. “It really didn’t turn out that way, which I think happened as a result of my obsession with live arrangements and also just time constraints, we wanted the album out in the summer. I’m actually relieved we scaled it down though; I don’t think I want to make anything super grandiose yet.”
Hallman describes the album as loving, honest, and impulsive. “I think it does a good job of covering all the bases of my sound, at the moment at least. There’s a lot of emo, alt-country, some electronic and jazz elements… It’s a good spread and I think it leaves me room to move in lots of different directions, which is exciting.”
Highlights abound on the emotional, whimsical journey from “Flynn’s Ditty” to “Sit Down on the Floor” – two bookends that capture the relaxed, yet nonetheless nuanced nature of emmersonHALL’s artistry. The album’s lead single (and Atwood Editor’s Pick) “Kindergarten,” a duet with fanclubwallet’s Hannah Judge, is an unadulterated expression of youth and all its innocence. In just two and a half minutes, Hallman crafts a tender reminder of who we all once were: Wide-eyed, limitless, and full of so many firsts, free of rules, social structures, and everything else that eventually restrains and regulates us over the many years ahead. It’s a soul-stirring combination of nostalgia, affection, heartache, and love: In his voice, Hallman captures a yearning for what once was, but can never be again. He fills a short, yet instantly memorable space with an unabating ache for something ever-present, unattainable: The kids we once were.
Rather than share whole songs, Hallman picks them apart when selecting his own favorite moments. “My favourite parts are probably the breakdown at the end of ‘Different Now,’ the bass walkups on ‘Strangest Feeling,’ and the final chorus of ‘Just Need To,’” he says. “I feel like Miki and I really nailed it for those moments.”
He adds to that two favorite lyrics: “I really like the first verse of ‘Before I Knew’ in particular,” he notes. ‘I always said I’d die at 25, or live to be a thousand years old/ Slowly but surely I’m nearing 25, I think I’ll just wait and see how it goes.’ I’ve been informed that everyone thinks that’s about dying young, but when I wrote it I was talking more about how dying young becomes less and less romantic as you approach ‘dying young’ age.”
“I also like the second verse in ‘Just Need To’: ‘Watch the geese go back and forth again, they all seem so confused. No one knows when winter will come, not anymore anyway.’ It’s the most graceful way to discuss climate change that I’ve come up with so far, and it also speaks to the sentiment of being forced to survive in an environment that doesn’t make any sense when compared to the examples that have been set for you in the past. It’s all strange to me because I don’t really consider myself a particularly skilled lyricist, although I definitely appreciate the compliment!”
Quirky and candid, emmersonHALL is an uplifting, enchanting introduction to a singer/songwriter who has seized not only our ears, but also our imaginations.
Though technically still a stranger to us all, Hallman’s diaristic writing and up-close and personal performance truly makes him feel like a long-lost friend: Someone we forgot we knew so very, very well.
“I don’t know if I have a direct message that I hope people get out of the album,” Hall shares. “I just hope they like it! I’ve had people talk to me about lyrics that really meant a lot to them or musical things that really scratched an itch. It’s always so cool and rewarding to hear about what they got out of this thing that I made. I’m mostly just looking forward to making more, honestly.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside emmersonHALL’s emmersonHALL with Atwood Magazine as Cole Hallman goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his debut album!
Stream: ’emmersonHALL’ – emmersonHALL
:: Inside emmersonHALL ::
“Flynn’s Ditty” is a song named after my friend, who was going through a hard time when we were hanging out one day. We were just chilling on the couch talking and playing guitar and watching youtube and stuff and I came up with a little melody that turned into this song. Musically the song is very inspired by players like Bill Frisell, Hayden Pedigo, and Chris Thile; I love the whole self-accompanied acoustic thing that’s going on right now in roots music.
“Different Now” is about being in a place that’s super comfortable and fun but also not pushing you to grow at all, it’s awesome for a while but eventually you gotta change it up or you’re just gonna start wallowing. It’s probably my favourite song on the album, honestly! There’s a lot of the original demo that made it into the final, like the main guitar drone and the keyboard outro.
“Kindergarten” is lyrically a lot like the songs on my first EP, all about growing up and not knowing what the hell is going on and generally just figuring it out as you go- lots of unspoken rules and expectations that can be super confusing. The lyrics were originally written over a jaunty mandolin vamp and I shelved the song for a long time, later I wrote a bass part I really loved and was just scrolling through my lyrics looking for something that would fit and these ones did pretty seamlessly.
I wrote “Strangest Feeling” when I was back in my hometown for a summer a couple years ago, thinking about how much simpler life might be if I gave up on everything I wanted for myself and just got a decent job in a rural town. I know that it’s not true and life is complicated and hard no matter where you are, but grass is greener, you know? I took a lot from Faye Webster’s ‘Cheers’ for the vibe and darkness of it and the approach to the guitar tone from ‘Nights’ by Frank Ocean.
“Finch Barista” is in the same tuning as Difficult Now and I wrote them around the same time, though I think they’re thematically quite different songs. Finch is all about growing and becoming, where as Different Now is all about staying the same. I wanted this to be a lighter track, so I used a Morricone-esque baritone guitar as the ‘bass’ in the verses and lots of mandolin.
Before I Knew
“Before I Knew” is the song that I’m most proud of on the album lyrically, I think I really nailed down a lot of sentiments that I’ve been trying to get out for a long time; apathy and self-forgiveness and the like. Now that I’ve written it I feel kind of relieved, like I’ve expressed that emotion and I can move on to writing about other things.
Just Need To
“Just Need To” is my attempt at writing a straightforward rock n roller song. I missed the mark a bit but I like to think it’s still danceable. It’s all about the call of the void- how you could totally screw it all up at any given moment if you decided to. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now and I feel that a lot, I spend a lot of time thinking about if anything I do has any kind of meaning at all. It’s a bit of a bummer of a song but it’s also weirdly empowering to me.
Sit Down on the Floor
“Sit Down on the Floor” is about when I got caught sitting down and dissociating in the warehouse at work and how it was sooooo embarrassing!!
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© Hannah Judge
:: Stream emmersonHALL ::