Outside Closer

Certain songs seem tailor-made for rainy days. Sometimes the association emerges from experience or exposure but other songs are so suited to saturated skies that any appreciation is incomplete until paired with the appropriate measure of precipitation. Hailing from a particularly dreary region of England, post-post-rock-lap-pop progenitors Hood deal almost exclusively in such stormy soundscapes.

Consequently, Hood spends precious little time in my various vessels of music transmission. Now it’s not that Hood isn’t particularly captivating or alluring in their own way. They are. But I live in sunny Southern California where the days amenable to Hood’s watery wallow-songs of detached longing and languid regret are all too few.

As it is, there’s been scarcely enough time since 2001 for me to fully fall in love with their masterful Cold House. But enrapture me it did in what few rainy slogs and depression groves I’ve waded through or wondered in since its release. What sad times and scenic rains I’ve seen since have not been passed without reaching for the cold comfort of that record.

Rather recently I’ve seen storms of such severity they’ve swept small cities out to sea. And all along there’s been a hearthurt bleeding gloom though old wounds re-ruptured by the latest greatest heartbreak. Into all this, Hood released their most recent record, Outside Closer. As much as the album prior, it is another collection of sad songs with sick beats so well-suited for sunless skies and drenching days.

Hood’s capacity for capturing this ambiance emerges from their employment of ambient as well as other genres. Blessed with restlessness, Hood has explored almost every creative process from shoe-gaze and sample symphonies to glitchy big beat and Timbaland-tapping dance tracks. This proclivity for exploration has left Hood on the periphery as bands like Radiohead, The Postal Service, and The Notwist have refined and retooled similar such experiments to greater success and broader accessibility.

Still something remains to Hood that proves completely compelling even if not instantaneously addictive. Though they may not master pop-craft they still can capture mood with uncommon accuracy. Through strings, strums, and samples they evoke desolate depression and hurts held dearly. The fidelity of such forays rings so true that independent appreciation apart from the event or experience is almost impossible.

Though this may limit Hood’s overall appeal, it also establishes them as masters of their own peculiar and particularly sad aesthetic. Their very weakness becomes their greatest strength as they shake off hooks and melodies like rain drops from a storm soaked lapel but do so with such sense of style that even this simple shrugging displacement of water seems so much like a willful act of art.

Outside Closer carries on this casual virtuosity with a slightly greater degree of success. Previous Hood records have been graced only by a few singular stand-out tracks that stand alone apart from all their brethren in their own unique perfection while all other songs lay back and languish in their own melancholic miasma. Outside Closer exceeds that expectation by infusing almost every song with some indelible hook or signature. “The Negatives…” comes on strong with stuttering stadium boom-bap before decaying into symphonic swells and finger-plucked pensiveness. Conversely, succeeding song “Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive” progresses from hesitating house kicks to full-on shoe-gaze stomp with bittersweet string embellishment.

Still, not every song is a success. Every Hood record suffers its sacrifice to sonic experimentation. Here it’s the inconsequential “(Int)” and “Closure” which smack of padding parading as conceptual necessity as well as the dub-damaged dissonance of “Winter 72.”

Nevertheless, Hood remains the kind of band that is not so much faulted for their missteps as they are praised for their progressive strides. Their appeal has never been so much about ready gratification as much as it has been about continued contemplation. Still, Outside Closer proves to be their most readily gratifying effort and may be the single best introduction to their work.

So snag up a copy of Outside Closer while there’s still enough rainy days to appreciate it.

Don’t believe me? Then listen to “The Negatives…” and contemplate how wrong you were to doubt me.

Now listen to “You Show No Emotion At All” from Cold House which may not be the best introduction to Hood but is still probably their finest record.

So buy Cold House already. You won’t regret it. I promise.


Notorious Lightning

Dan Bejar’s Destroyer and Carey Mercer’s Frog Eyes are both defiantly idiosyncratic bands so incongruous with their peers that any kind of collaboration would appear impossible. To say that Bejar has found his Crazy Horse could quite understandably be taken very literally. It’s not hard to picture such an eccentric sharing a stage with some sort of deranged steed or mare more than likely fastened into some fashion of tutu or ball gown and positioned behind an oversized glockenspiel. Conversely, Frog Eyes makes for a most unlikely backing band, their unhinged sonic machinations sure to overwhelm any front man or woman regardless of status or stature. Imagine an aging Bowie flailing frantic futile hands to hold back Mercer’s merry men as they lurch and launch “Ziggy Stardust” into psychedelic netherworlds never known by the Spiders From Mars. Amusing as either of these end results might be, they would surely qualify as unquestionably disastrous. Still somehow Bayer’s bi-polarism and Mercer’s schizo-frenetics round off eachother’s rough edges yielding a more palatable product from both parties.

Notorious Lightning and Other Works reinvents six songs from Destroyer’s Your Blues as they were performed on tour with Frog Eyes playing The Band to Bejar’s Dylan. Moving away from the intentionally isolationary synthetics of the original efforts, every track improves with Frog Eyes filling up the backdrop with their unnerving, nervous clatter-crash and strum. This new setting pushes Bejar beyond the detached ironic smirking of Your Blues, eschewing intellectualism in favor of flat-out rocking. His lyrics are bolstered by this approach suffering no loss of genius yett not smacking so much of overt cleverness. If anything at all is lost in these translations it is only the arty pretension that teetered on the edge of off-putting anyhow.

Frog Eyes turn in an unexpectedly impressive performance as well. Their theatrics are not so impressive as their restraint as they yield the spotlight to Bejar’s voice and words and fill up the space behind them with complimentary counterpoints. The wounded wailing and scattershot caterwauling six-string fuckery that runs rampant over their own records is reigned in and unleashed only as accentuation. Mercer’s histrionic hiss and whisper shriek even prove a surprisingly harmonious balance to Bejar’s Bowie yelps and helium bellows.

The relative lack to which this effect is employed is one of the few flaws with the release. Everything is good here but there is just simply not enough of it. There needs to be more Mercer in the mix and more songs altogether. It would have been especially nice to see the two tackle something more resistant to the rockist tendancies indulged in here, like the flute-laced frivolity of “It’s Gonna Take An Airplane.”

Still, it’s a testament to the strength of the release that the only complaint is that there’s just not enough of it. With more tour dates booked together into 2005, the hope remains for future collaborative releases from Destroyer and Frog Eyes. For now, Notorious Lightening and Other Works serves as a great introduction to both artists.

Listen to how great "New Ways of Living" is on Your Blues...

Then listen to how Frog Eyes makes the same song impossibly more awesome on Notorious Lightning and Other Works.

Buy Your Blues from Destroyer.

Buy Notorious Lightning and Other Works because it's even better.

Buy The Golden River from Frog Eyes because it's simply amazing all on its own.

Read my review of Frog Eyes' The Folded Palm.


The Saddest Night Out in the USA

This Valentine’s Day may find you among the impossibly happy or the unfortunate lonely. For everyone else who’s there with me in that latter category – and everybody gets there at some point – I offer my 2005 Valentine’s Day MP3 Mix.

“Beat Connection”
by LCD Soundsystem from DFA Compilation #2 #2

Most of us want to reach out and be close to someone but have a hard time getting over ourselves enough to do that. So stop hesitating already.

“The Naked Face”
by 411 from This Isn’t Me

From asking someone out to separating yourself from someone you still care about, this song is a plea for emotional honesty.

“Don’t Go Down”
by Elliot Smith from From a Basement On a Hill

From pleading with a lover not to give into the frailties and failures of their upbringing to succumbing to those own intrinsic injuries of our own, it’s all hell all around.

by MF Doom featuring Angelika & 4ize from MM..Food

Once lovers leave, you can only confront that pain for so long before you’re looking for “anything just to forget the hurt.”

“In My Life”
by The Brian Jonestown Massacre from Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective

Eventually anger sets in and its vengeful rage can be of some comfort.

“The Sun Doesn’t Want To Shine”
by Saturday Looks Good to Me from All Your Summer Songs

When that anger subsides, we realize all we really want is for our lovers to come home; surely there’s something more we can say or do to convince them.

“Sometimes I Cry”
by Guided by Voices from Forever Since Breakfast

Sometimes the lover that left returns, but more often then not they stay away and all we’re left with is the pain of their absence.

by Fog from Fog

A lover lost forces introspection, but may be that’s what it takes to realize we need to make a change.

“Inside the Golden Days of Missing You”
by The Silver Jews from The Natural Bridge

Of course, it’s easier to pine away for what was rather than confront what’s wrong inside of us.

“Bonus Track”
by Black Lipstick from Converted Thieves

You have to move on some day and once you do it’s often a good friend who reminds you “the points still count on the rebound.”

“Just Look At Me”
by Jonathan Richman from Surrender to Jonathan

Lovers may leave and as much as that may hurt eventually we get to the point where we can just be grateful for what love we had while we had it.

“True Love Will Find You in the End”
by Daniel Johnston from The Late Great Daniel Johnston

All we ever have is hope; see also track one of this mix.

Happy Vanlentine’s Day, everybody!

Hold steady.


The Low Lows

There’s no room for restraint in romance. I'd rather throw myself full force into the face of it. Love accepts no less a sacrifice.

And sacrifice is inherent in such a reckless heart as mine. Many memories are surely made in mad passion but they all turn to shredding shards when shattered by their very volatility. At that moment, every image, every situation, every place, taste, and sound that further fueled my love becomes entirely intolerable.

There are places I can’t go. There are tastes of which I must now not partake. There are things I cannot drink. And there are records I must never hear again.

It’s losing those records that hurts the most. I bet my heart and up the ante with the music that I love. And when I lose, that loss is amplified by the still resounding resonance of a song that once scored something sweet.

Age has made me no more cautious or careful. If anything it has only made my wagers more audacious. To my first love I lost only some Sire-era Dinosaur Jr and my ironic appreciation for John Denver. But three loves later I was betting The Velvet Underground and all 69 Love Songs.

This last bet though was my boldest yet. I was so certain of a sure thing I put Mirah, Iron & Wine, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Shins all on the line and when the tables turned against me I damn near lost Pavement too.

It was one hell of a loss, but nothing that could keep me from making the same mistake. I was glad to give up what I gave for the rush of love while it lasted. I’ll do it again. And the next record I wager will be Parker & Lily’s The Low Lows.

Though I have yet to make the most of it, The Low Lows is sure to be my favorite make-out record of 2005. Aching with a swelling swoon and awash in a haze of heartache, it’s a sure-fire soundtrack for languorous wine-lipped kisses or carousing-come-down cuddles.

Created by a couple close to dissolution, the record throbs will a dull hurt. More of a bruise than a wound, this pulsing pain propels The Low Lows with the slow steady beat of a broken heart. Only “User’s Guide” and “Suit of Fire” deviate from the predominantly druggy dirge and into more moderate tempos. Still, Parker Noon’s codeine croon and plenty of thick syrupy reverb render even these songs molasses slow and just as sticky sweet.

That a record can creep with such captivating elegance is a testament to Parker & Lily’s entirely idiosyncratic soundscapes. Their New York City origins are noticeable only in that they sound like The Walkmen when The Walkmen sound less like The Srokes and more like Tom Waits. Beyond that, there is no clear comparison and only the most tenuous touchstones. There’s the sonorous swell of My Morning Jacket but only as heard outside the grain silo and asleep in the gutter. The hiss and hum of analog tubes and tape warm The Low Lows with the same intimate creak and groan of early Iron & Wine yet the arrangements well up too impossibly lush to accommodate such a comparison. They evoke the mood of a lo-fi Mark Lannegan Band but with none of the bullshit bravado. And on “I Am a Gun” and “June Gloom” acoustic strumming and pedal steel surges evoke the notion of an Americana Sigur Ros. All of this amounts to a contradictory cacophony that is at once gracefully shambolic and beautifully ugly. As David Berman might put it, “I never knew a bird could fly so low.”

While I can’t call it instantaneously accessible, The Low Lows is surely a worthwhile and rewarding listen. From submerged symphonic swells to disembodied candy-pop sweetness there’s something to satisfy every sonic fetish amidst the muck and murk of a willfully anomalous recording. Beyond and behind that dissonance is a genius capacity for the integration and transcendence of influence. Compellingly challenging and excitingly adventurous, it could prove to be this year’s Palm Fronds.

Mine is a most risky way to love. Yet I know no other way. While the quaking beauty of The Low Lows may be most precious to me now, I’ll be quick to put it down on the table in another romantic wager.

Along with everything else.

Ample downloads courageously provided by Parker & Lily.

Buy it now from Amazon and have The Low Lows in your make-out mix by Valentine's Day