Pleasureland is the newest work from Canadian-born artist Haley McCallum, known professionally as Haley Bonar for the past 15 years. In 2017, she changed her surname to reflect her maternal family name, now performing under the name HALEY.
Stark, minimalist, and melodically entrancing, Pleasureland stands in a class entirely of its own, forging new but not unfamiliar ground for the Minnesota-based artist HALEY. Harkening back to her 2011 release Golder, which featured two instrumental tracks, McCallum has taken the instrumental concept a few steps further in a bold musical statement which features no vocals. This time, McCallum’s musicianship and artistry take the lead. Transitioning from the erratic, synth-driven intro of "Credit Forever Part 1" into the deeply enchanting "Give Yourself Away", which blends piano melodies in the style of French Romanticism with the production stylings of Brian Eno to build a sonic landscape which is as lovely as it is uneasy. In the stoner-metal burner "Syrup", McCallum’s lead guitar swaggers lazily over a fuzzed out, intense layer of distortion, featuring long-time collaborator and guitar wunderkind Jeremy Ylvisaker and Low's Steve Garrington on bass. The intimate and devastating "Pig Latin" showcases McCallum’s extraordinary gift for melody, carried by world class saxophonist Mike Lewis (Happy Apple, Bon Iver), tracked live in Haley's bedroom.
Mixed by Shuta Shinoda (Anna Meredith, Ghostpoet), McCallum’s production shines through in a new light. Sparsely interlacing the organic and digital, Pleasureland moves through the gamut of grief, perception, and empowerment, eliciting both the uneasiness of a world shifting unexpectedly as well as the innate capacity for goodness and beauty. Here, McCallum displays her long time mastery of simple and haunting melodies that remain with the listener long after, replacing explanation through words with a pallet of sonic exploration wrapped up into just twenty-seven minutes.
In addition to bypassing the tradition of releasing singles and their accompanying videos, Pleasureland instead features videos made by HALEY as well as a handful directed by familiar collaborators, including sibling Torey Erin ("Called You Queen") and Nicole Brending ("Kismet Kill"). Moving away from higher-budget mini films, the videos provide a visually artistic and deeply personal element to a visceral, indefinable score. The fast-paced and darkly humorous “Credit Forever Part 2” brings remarkable new energy to the classical-tinged arpeggiated piano, stopping and starting with the frenetic energy reminiscent of early punk. Using clips of television commercials and news coverage from the summer of 2001, McCallum encapsulates the year she graduated high school and moved to Minnesota, just days before the events of September 11th. The images portray an American landscape vested in capitalism, product placement and consumerism while sinister political forces simmer underneath. Fans of HALEY’s previous work won’t be surprised to hear her intentional balance of darkness and light in songs like “Next Time (For C)”, a tribute to her daughter Clementine, or “Syrup”, which features a plain-clothed and asexual Haley dancing in her kitchen. The videos echo the songs in their ability to playfully cast an imperfect eye on the cacophony of our complicated human nature.
Although the concepts for Pleasureland could be construed as cagey, the nature of this album is, at heart, for the listener’s pleasure alone. If you are expecting the dark pop-rock sounds which have defined HALEY’s music thus far, you will not necessarily find them here - what you will find, however, is an album that swells with powerful emotion and raw beauty, holding space for those without a voice while simultaneously creating a voice of its own. Pleasureland displays another side of a unique artist resisting the familiar aspects of success by redefining it for herself.