My three regular readers (you know who you are) will have noticed that I’m not big on lyrics. This is because I tend not to pay too much attention to them. Partly this is because I’m one of those people who has real problems hearing them (especially in American, but this would apply equally in Dutch, Portuguese, or Japanese if I spoke any of them), and partly it’s because they’re usually so damn awful they spoil the pleasure of listening to the music. And now that bands such as Hood have dispensed with what used to be the obligatory lyrics sheet (neither hardcopy nor virtual), that kind of confirms my belief that, really, they’re irrelevant – at best, nothing more than a peg to hang the music on, and, at worst, an agonising distraction from it.
Just this once, then: Hood’s lyrics seem to work best as partial glimpses into that chilly warehouse of unfathomable events where the countless individual legacies of emotional turmoil are stored in dismaying racks – best not lingered over in detail, but reassuring in fragments as reminders of the universality of romantic misery:
‘there isn’t any space for love anymore’ (the negatives)
‘these could be the last words that I ever say to you’ (any hopeful thoughts arrive)
‘the year of the lost you’ (the lost you)
‘sorry can’t make you stay’ (closure)
‘don’t believe you’re anything – are you sure you exist?’ (this is it, forever)
I do find it a little perplexing, though, that Hood should be thought of as a kind of twenty-noughts music equivalent of the Brotherhood of Ruralists simply on the basis of their not writing songs about urban angst and occasionally employing titles like september brings the autumn dawn, the river curls around the town, and with branches bare. It’s true that Hood’s music is devoid of a certain urban twitchiness, but that’s true of countless city-based groups as well, and says nothing more than that words like ‘urban’ and ‘twitchy’ have become the conforming stereotypes of the genre-hungry culture show: of no more help in talking about the work than any of the other listless clichés we hacks resort to when stumped for a pithy sentence or two.
Hood really deserves better than the cliché, because what they’ve been doing over the last ten years is steadily growing from an interesting lo-fi two-blokes-strumming-guitars-in-a-pub outfit (all wide-eyed, weird and wired and pumping ‘em out at two-and-half a minutes-per-song maximum) to the seriously technologised-but-human ensemble of today. This evolution into the benign collective Borgs of Indie has transited the tricky period of having, like everyone else throughout the nineties, to confront and assimilate the world-dominating glitches and beats of electronica, and has seen them emerge with a discrete voice, enhanced and quite uncompromised by that transition.
In Outside Closer (their sixth full-length album) that evolutionary process has become partially exposed – a kind of less contentious music analogue to Haeckel’s recapitulation law – contributing a particularly satisfying, layered texture to many of the songs. any hopeful thoughts arrive (track 3) is an outstanding example, in which, after a sparse intro of interrupted beats and glitches – a kind of clearing of the electronic throat – a beautifully crystalline picked riff shared between channels by two acoustic guitars gets laid down (this is soooo typically Hood – nobody does it better) as intro to Chris Adams whispery, mannered, hypnotically entrancing voice (‘these could be the last words that I ever say to you’) before the delicately precise introduction of more and more accompanying instruments, both acoustic and synth – brother Richard’s cello, trumpets, horns – until, with that haunting eight-bar guitar litany securely anchored in the back of the mix, it opens out into a full-on, masterfully restrained orchestral climax – complete with dulcimer – that hints, unlikely as it seems, at something akin to Michael Nyman without the bombast. Far too short, even at seven minutes, to do itself full justice, but even that’s an evolutionary nod, perhaps, back at those early EP days. Always leave ‘em wanting more. Good thinking.
Hood are famously eclectic, and what is now a very respectable body of work has been compared at different times with umpteen other bands including pavement, my bloody valentine, the fall, radiohead, the chills, mogwai, arab strap, aphex twin, boards of canada, the notwist, new order, dntel, take that, the smiths, and all points west of Leeds. It’s always moot, this business of influence, and what tends to get forgotten is that it cuts both ways: check out hunted by a freak, track one of Mogwai’s 2003 Happy Songs for Happy People and then listen to cold fire woods of western lanes – track two of Home Is Where It Hurts – Hood’s EP from two years earlier – and you’ll see what I mean.
Outside Closer weaves an oddly distinctive set of roundelays between the Air-like poppiness and cheery melancholia of the negatives and the Massive Attack jams with The Clash in Reykjavik melancholia of winter 72, concluding with two of the most depressing songs I’ve ever heard – entitled, appropriately enough, closure and this is it, forever. But pasted in the middle there is this jewel in the crown – the lost you (track 6) – which was quite rightly regarded in the more discerning critical circles as the best single of 2004. Bar none. A fabulous, unstoppable hummer of a song that lingers long and lovingly after having probed most intimately those parts that other songs can’t reach.
Why ‘Hood’? rather than ‘The Adams Brothers’? Funny what pops into your mind when you’re chewing your quill and wondering if it’s time for another cup of deep rich Fairtrade Colombian. It reflects an interesting aspect of the post-’91 culturequake that there hasn’t, other than the ironic ‘Chemical’, and the unaccountably alt.cult ‘Finn’ been much acknowledgement, in the way bands choose names for themselves, of the family connections represented by the Brothers Everly, Righteous, Allmann, Isley, Walker, Doobie, Gibson (insert your pre-Beegees fraternal faves here) for quite a while. The Gallagher Brothers ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’? The Williams Brothers ‘Lost Souls’? It has a quite different ring, doesn’t it? It’s not that these guys don’t want to acknowledge that they’re brothers – they talk about it all the time – it’s just that there’s been a significant cultural shift away from a time when to announce yourself as The Jackson Five was a source of pride rather than deep uncoolth. Maybe Hood’s own 2001 EP Home Is Where It Hurts – offers a clue as to why in the title. Makes sense to me.