This one leapt up the queue with unseemly alacrity for, with apologies to all my musical friends out there, this
is not only one of the best CDs this year, but one that went straight into the not too large pile marked 'essential.'
Secret Society barely crawls over the 18 minute mark, contains 9 songs lasting under 2 minutes on average,
and is a rare and wonderful thing of beauty.
This is what music should be like. Asking questions, probing emotions, seeking truth. "Good music for bad times"
- nuff said.
I had no idea that the reference to urinating amphibians in "Antigravity" would cause such a stir! At least two other
reviews below mention this standard defense mechanism used by our
friends. Sorry - I didn't mean to interrupt. -TH
T. Hallenbeck brings a mix of classical music, classic rock, and Celtic music to his album Secret Society.
Purely an acoustic album, he plays guitar, cello, mandolin, and mandola on it. "Hymn to the Mothman" starts this
record off with acoustic guitar and cello; all of the songs on this record have an otherworldly feel, like a biblical
Renaissance Faire with a healthy dose of Star Trek Convention. Lyrical references run the gamut from the Lord
of Creation to tachyons and all the way to frog pee. All the songs on this CD are short, with the longest slightly
over three-and-a-half minutes and the shortest under a minute, and each song packs an understated power that draws
in the listener.
I don't know who I would recommend this album to -- that is, I don't know what type of person would enjoy this record.
I think of it as a fractal, getting more complex and intricate the closer you get.
Beautiful songs, sort of longing and acoustic emo-rock. T. Hallenbeck belongs somewhere in the same area as Bob
Mould and Elliot Smith. What catches me the most is his hard rhythmic playing-his bass-string riffs together
with beautiful melodic breaks. The music is intense and gripping, from the hopeful opening track "Hymn to the
Mothman" to the surrealistic lovestory of "Antigravity." A plus also for his convincing strong voice and the
sparse but powerful cello, mandolin and mandola arrangements. This CD is an uplifting experience to listen to.
Mr. Hallenbeck is one hell of a talented individual. A singer songwriter from the Bay Area of California,
T. Hallenbeck plays guitar, does all the vocals and even includes cello, mandolin and the mandola to his list
of instrumentation that he performs on his quaint yet powerful album Secret Society. In a style that
is obviously influenced by Cat Stevens, mixed with that of Elliott Smith, T. Hallenbeck has found a middle
ground that is completely unique. This record is pleasant to listen to, powerful, and above all follows the
golden rule of "Leave them wanting more"! Folky, catchy and powerful, Secret Society is one of the best
singer songwriter records I've heard all year.
The cover letter that accompanied this CD caught our attention initially ("I hope you find
this CD much more interesting than this cover letter.") ...but the tunes themselves made the
real impression. California's T. Hallenbeck is a one man band with a difference. Instead of
spewing out generic pop or alternative slop, Hallenbeck provides poignant, intelligent, and
amazingly well-constructed tunes that are heady and extremely melodic. The overall sound of this
album reminds us of both Roy Wood and Ian Anderson. The tunes are centered around an acoustic
guitar... but Hallenbeck adds layers of cello, mandolin, and mandola (all of which he plays well)
to create a finely woven web of acoustic instrumentation that supports his tunes perfectly. The
vocals are absolutely great. Cool tunes like "Hymn to the Mothman," "Antigravity,"
and "Missing Time" make this album a thoroughly entertaining listen. Even though this
is a top quality release chock full of smart and inventive tunes, you aren't likely to come across
Secret Society in your local music shop. Visit this guy's web site. His music demands an
audience. This is a damn fine album independently recorded and released. If only all self-produced
projects were this good...
Idiosyncratic acoustic folk pop tunes. Hallenbeck writes short songs, and he's very good at that. I kept
wanting to put this disc away, and then his voice beckoned to me once again. Strangely addictive.
The mysterious T. Hallenbeck seems to travel in much the same lyrical circles
as artistic anomalies like Rocky Erickson or Nina Hagen, several songs on the
self-produced Secret Society touched by the special madness that only
rock & roll can create. Hallenbeck's well-crafted, folk-influenced tunes
pray to West Virginia's mythical Mothman, hide from some sort of malevolent
golem named "Black Charlie" and plead with an ancient Pharaoh to
"let my people go." The instrumentation on Secret Society is
sparse, mostly guitars with a few other stringed instruments thrown in for
effect, but the thrill to be found in these grooves is with Hallenbeck's
roller-coaster lyrics. Few wordsmiths would have the balls to attempt a verse
like "And I'm stuck like glue to higher-order dimensions, nanomachines,
time travel, superconductivity, tachyons and antigravity gizmos" as
Hallenbeck does on "Antigravity." He pulls it off, though, friendly,
infectious vocals and gentle instrumentation opening your consciousness and
driving home the lyrical weirdness like a chisel chipping away pieces of Breeko
block. Listening to Secret Society is a bit disconcerting at first, but
upon further investigation, you'll find a fair amount of intelligence, erudition
and spirituality in these tunes. Why be normal? If you're looking for a different
kind of listening experience, Secret Society will satisfy your wandering
id. T. Hallenbeck is proof of Hunter S. Thompson's infamous epitaph,
"when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." The Rev sez
"check it out!"
-The Rev. Keith A. Gordon
There are a lot of guys like T. Hallenbeck knocking about in the USA.
Guys who used to play in Rock bands throughout the 80's and early 90's
and possibly even the 70's and due to either a lack of like-minded
individuals or a lack of inclination to play with like-minded individuals,
they go solo. Revolving around an acoustic guitar and a few other acoustic
instruments like cellos and mandolins the songs sound like acoustic
versions of rock songs, tight bluesy power chords as opposed to loose
strummed chords more associated with acoustic music. There are however
several things that set Mr. Hallenbeck apart from other 'similar' artists.
Firstly his voice is incredibly clear, you can understand every word he
sings which is a welcome change from over emotional but mumbling vocalists.
Secondly, and the most welcome change from other artists of his ilk is the
length of his songs. A lot of (American especially) solo artists have the
tendency to go for far too long, boring their audience, "Secret Society"
has nine tracks lasting an average of two minutes each, which doesn't make
for particularly good value but does make refreshing listening. Lastly
T. Hallenbeck doesn't concentrate too much on that dreaded term,
"concept" which a lot of solo artists seem to think that
listeners are interested in, there is a slight element in his songs,
which with such a clear voice I guess is necessary, however it isn't
explicit. "Secret Society" is a refreshing and in some ways
ground breaking (especially in the genre) album and T. Hallenbeck looks
to be a promising artist, at home in large Rock venues and small intimate
T. Hallenbeck sent me a copy of his Secret Society album and I've been listening to it a ton. It's
just crammed with strings and Hallenbeck's plucking and rubbing every one of them... the guitars, the cello,
mandolin, mandola... and it ends up playing out like some vicious cat's cradle. I remember being a kid and
some girl did the cat's cradle thing where I put my finger in it and she widened the loom, trapping me, and
I freaked. I was like screaming and shit because I really thought I'd never escape and I'd have to be her
slave or something. And that memory's very fitting here, because I don't know if I'm ever going to stop
listening to this disc.
I'm going to do the lazy critic thing here and tell you that his voice, to me, often sounds like Matthew
Sweet when Sweet does that mellow thing, and the arrangements fall somewhere between Cat Stevens and acoustic
Bevis Frond. But the real treat? The lyrics. The guy's a kook and he flirts with espousing his private sense
of spirituality, but before it all gets too heavy, he starts tossing out lyrics like "And where she walks,
frogs leap from puddles and pee on anybody who picks them up." Dude! I've so been there! Frogs pee on me all
the time. Just try to talk about that with your friends, though. Do they want to hear about it? No way! Thank
you, Mr. T, for bringing this important subject into the realm of public discourse.
For the record (no pun intended), I am flattered by the Joni Mitchell reference, and Mr. Rex is right on the money
about Carl Sagan and Dr. Who. However, I am more interested in deconstructing existing religions than I am in starting
a new one. Oh, and by the way, I haven't rocked the ganj since I was in college - T. Hallenbeck's body is a temple,
and we do not defile the temple! Well, okay, it's an ancient ruin now, but it was once a temple... kind of like
Angkor Wat. -TH
California's T. Hallenbeck is an odd-duck. Displaced brother of Minneapolis scene stalwart Mike Merz, Hallenbeck
offers up a heapin' helpin' of what he calls "magical-realist acousticore." After listening to this folk-y disc
a few times, I'm not sure what to make of it. It kind of reminds me of Court and Spark-era Joni Mitchell.
Lots of hippie energy and cool jazzy progressions. Musically speaking, it's intricate, catchy, and well produced.
T. wows us by playing every instrument on the disc including cello, bass, mandolin, mandola, and guitar. The lyrics
are, well...really weird. Most of Mr. T's songs touch on neo-spiritual topics relating to a new sect of faith I'm
going to call Hallenbeckism. He preaches to his Secret Society on songs like "Hymn to the Mothman," in which he
pontificates, "I have seen your armor and your insect toes. Let me walk in light, let me live in faith, love, and
kindness. Holy, holy, holy, hosanna in the highest." "Antigravity" then takes a running leap off the reality cliff:
"And I'm stuck like glue to higher order dimensions, nanomachines, time-travel, superconductivity and tachyons and
antigravity gizmos." He goes on to talk about frog pee in the chorus. No, really! Frog pee! T. must spend a lot of
time watching Doctor Who reruns, reading Carl Sagan, and rockin' the ganj. I don't know if I'm quite ready for High
Priest Hallenbeck's new faith or his lyrics. But his music is pretty groovy, and I can't get the melody to
"Antigravity" outta my head. I'm horribly torn between head-bobbin' along and freaking out over new age hoo-ha.
Well this guy can say that he's got talent. He's responsible for the vocals,
guitars, cello, mandolin, mandola, and the cover art not to mention the lyrics.
Wow that's some resume eh? And to top it off, this 9-track album of acoustic
folk is reflective as well as almost an insane sense of humor - just see the
back cover that says "Unauthorized use will invoke fire and brimstone".
It just doesn't get better than that! Oh yeah and there's great music on here
too reminding the listener that those crazy people that wrote "Puff the
Magic Dragon" were cloned and sent to Emeryville, CA where T. Hallenbeck
hails. This is good stuff, great to relax to, and I'm sure it would be
This acoustic folk pop album is certainly an admirable effort from this
singer/musician/songwriter from California. Short, straightforward songs,
guitar courting with cello, mandolin, mandola, 17 languages in
"Missing Time" (from Hindi to Cantonese) gave us one distinct
creation worth listening to. It is not a chart topper and it'll never
be but it will find those it's looking for.
A very strange name I know and with such a name it's immediately clear that it isn't the man's goal to start
up a career as popstar. Why should he? Secret Society is just the work of a musician who is doing his
own thing and all what comes with it is just seen as some sort of bonus, and in my case it's respect.
Secret Society is certainly not the kind of record that will change my life but I hear some good
overthought singer-songwriter who can be best compared to the recent stuff Johnny Cash brought us. It is a
sincere work with lyrics that are sounding so utopian (a dream society you know) that at times it borders on
the edge of sarcasm. What praises T. Hallenbeck is that in the world of the singersongwriters that he has
found a certain style that is miles away from the Bob Dylan wannabes we're usually confronted with!
I can't resist commenting on this. The "main vibe," as this reviewer
puts it, is of a "religious nature" only superficially. I use
Biblical imagery sometimes because such metaphors and allegories are widely
recognized, in Western culture at least, and tend to speak to the human
experience even when placed in a secular context. As for things one might hear
in church, or mosque, synagogue, temple, or ashram for that matter, one certainly
will not hear about the Mothman. And most of the time you hear about Jerusalem,
it's described as something that people want to move toward, rather than
away from as in the song of the same name, in which the "narrator"
or whatever has found a meaningful existence by leaving Jerusalem and the
well-ordered tranquility it represents.
Supernatural or mythical figures do pop up a lot in my songwriting, but their
manifestations are often associated with the suggestion of idolatry. The ones
that appear on Secret Society - Mothman, Pharaoh, the mysterious woman
in "Antigravity," the demonic familiar in "Black Charlie"
- are false gods, constructs created by the mind to understand or perhaps
avoid reality. Some of them are malevolent and some are harmless or even helpful,
but they're all figments of the imagination and are not intended to advance some
sort of spiritual or religious agenda.
How do songwriters decide what to write about? Life experience, survey, or the flip of a coin? It all depends.
You've got people who express their inner-selves (or whatever), others who just want to be famous, and others
who feel the need to experiment with noise. Regardless, I don't think it's everyday you run into someone like
This Bay Area artist's album is mostly acoustic, and while some of the
ideas on Secret Society are partially intriguing, I have a
difficult time listening to it. The main vibe is one of a religious
stature. Titles like "Hymn to the Mothman,"
"Let My People Go," and "Jerusalem" hint towards that.
I don't know about you, but those are the kinds of things I don't like to
hear unless I'm at church. Plus, the style of play rubs me the wrong way.
It's a serious-goofiness that... you think "Oh man, I hope he's joking."
But he's not.
Secret Society is intriguing because of the beginning of the song
"Missing Time." T. Hallenbeck uses an audio sample of people saying
"Greetings from the people of Earth," in almost twenty different
languages! What the...? He explains it "was inspired by the collection
of sound recordings sent out on the Voyager space probes launched in the
late 1970s." Now that was worth the listen. Why did he do it? That's his
business. But you've got to admit it's pretty damn interesting.