Like a movie you just can’t take your eyes off, Hang Time is a captivating album that’s impossible to ignore once you hear it.
There’s nothing more exhilarating than when the opening of a film cuts from black to its first frame. The immediacy of replacing a dark void with light, movement, and action always catches me by surprise and makes me take notice. I get the same effect by pressing play on Cedric Noel’s Hang Time. With no warning or fanfare, opening song “Comuu” is instantly there, guitars ringing in your ears and Noel’s voice, filling the frame like a close-up shot, speaking directly to you. It’s an arresting opening to an album that carries all the hallmarks of a cinematic masterpiece: the push-and-pull tension in Noel’s lyrics, his highly stylized musical settings, and the sense that Noel is more himself at the end of Hang Time than he was at its beginning.
It helps (but is not necessary) to know some of the back story. Noel was born in Niger and adopted into a multi-racial family that moved around the globe during his youth. Landing in Fredericton for university, Noel entered a predominantly white music community where, as a Black man, he found himself concurrently a part of and apart from the scene. That dichotomy of belonging and assimilating while simultaneously searching for one’s essence and individuality followed Noel to Montreal (where he’s currently based) and informs Hang Time.
Essentially a tone poem exploring macro- and micro-questions about identity, place, expectations, and assumptions, Hang Time is a star vehicle for Noel. He’s firmly locked into his musical wheelhouse: angular rock riffing, amorphous ambient tones, expansive, sing-along choruses, and economic lyrics that use repetition to explore themes from multiple perspectives. Early single “Allies” is arguably the album’s best example of Noel’s style. By intimately and repeatedly asking/confirming/wondering “Are you on my side,” he explores Black allyship and its myriad facets, how it needs to be predicated on trust and authenticity and how difficult it can be to discern when allyship is being performed. He pairs his words with those of Malcolm X, from a speech in 1964, that fundamentally asked the same question: if you are not on the side of equality and justice for all, then where do you stand? That the song eventually implodes into raucous noise further punctuates the profundity of its central question and the album’s overall thesis.
Clearly on Noel’s side are his Hang Time collaborators: guest vocalists Ella Williams of Squirrel Flower (on “Bass Song”) and Brigitte Naggar of Common Holly (on “Dove”), Lisa Conway-Bühler of L-CON, Suuns’ Liam O’Neill, Kathleen Speckert, Tim Crabtree of Paper Beat Scissors, and engineer Steve Newton who helped capture proceedings in the studio. The unrushed pace and layered instrumentation of songs like “Nighttime (Skin),” “Headspace,” and “Stilling” allow Noel’s words and music to work their magic, weaving their separate-but-connected vignettes into a cohesive throughline. Noel is a musical auteur coming into the fullness of his creativity, and like a movie you just can’t take your eyes off of, Hang Time is a captivating album that’s impossible to ignore once you hear it.
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