Hood - Cold House
Imagine, if you will, a half-lit netherworld of music that never was. A land of intriguing what-ifs and should've-beens where Kurt Cobain has just released a dreadful solo album and Orbital boast a discography unsullied by David Gray collaborations. And imagine that, in this sick parallel universe, it was one of the early-nineties shoegazing set - Mark Gardener of indie mumblies Ride, say - and not Thom Yorke that tripped over an Autechre album in the street and thought, "what a jolly idea!" Imagine that he further embarked on a Kid A-style hybrid of rock and progressive electronica, only couldn't find any electric guitars or plectrums and had sore fingers, so he had to use acoustics and fingerpick very, very gently.
Now stop imagining, because Hood have made the ensuing album. And before you start, I know exactly what you're thinking. Philistine. Alright, I openly admit that Cold House isn't any fun. You won't jump around your bedroom to it and it won't make you drive your car really fast down the A217 and pretend you're in Days of Thunder. But you'll listen to it again and again and again, just like you stick on Kid A and play The National Anthem once a week when no-one's looking.
You'll have to persevere, though, because it's melancholy, uncomfortable and damn hard work to begin with. Chris Adam's vocals wander over fractured, edgy beats sounding half-lost, as if a clutch of pop songs have woken up in a foreign country with no knowledge of the native tongue. On the opening track 'They Removed All Trace That Anything Had Ever Happened Here' cellos grind away mournfully in the background, while on 'Branches Bare' hired rappers why? and dose add surreal rhymes ("we spit in the pond to give the fish something to pray to." Of course you do.) to an already moody and disorientating soundscape.
The songs remain distinctly human, though. Pained, down-to-earth and intimate, they seem to sit oddly with cold electronica on the first listening; but listen closer and you realise you've been making some pretty lazy assumptions, because the combination of the two is holding you to the emotional heart of the song in a way that only the absolute top end of traditional rock music can. Cold House makes you sit up and pay complete attention from beginning to end, simply because sounds and styles are being put together in ways you've never heard before.
Hood started out as indie miserablists and are now using cutting-edge production and beat sequencing; this is a mix of soul-searching and technical innovation made, stunningly, without compromising or diluting either element. As always there are reference points - the technically incompetent but oddly affecting vocals recall My Bloody Valentine, sparsely arranged songs like 'Lines Low To Frozen Ground' remind of The Blue Nile's semi-conscious minimalist pop, and 'You Show No Emotion At All' has unpaid debts to Depeche Mode's 'Enjoy The Silence' - but when your reference points are that distinctive you can safely sit back and allow yourself a superior grin.
Although the indie-rock-meets-Warp-records scenario is bound to invite Kid A comparisons, these are two very different pieces of work. Cold House is less claustrophobic and frustrated, more mournful, delicate and romantic; Radiohead's album evokes smog over cities, Hood's the snow that carpets their Yorkshire country town on the sleeve. It's the dirtiest trick there is, but they save their best for last; on 'You're Worth The Whole World' an insultingly beautiful guitar part underpins a layered vocal that's spoken and sung, chopped up and put back together, echoing, shuddering and looping in on itself until almost unrecognisable. Like the album as a whole it drags you in and confuses you, and only at the very end do you realise you've just heard one of the most unique, gorgeous and thoroughly modern pieces of music ever recorded. These are songs that reinforce their emotional punch by pulling you in stylistically, by forcing you to focus completely on what you're hearing. And when they finally let you go you're all the more haunted by them. Go buy.
(c) 2002 Nathan Midgley