on life, music etc beyond mainstream

For around a decade and a half, Hood inhabited a strange parallel universe in which dub, techno and hip hop were native genres to rural West Yorkshire. Their peculiar magic seemed to stem from an anxiety, a kind of dual attraction-repulsion, towards electricity. A childhood fear of pylons that grows into an adolescent obsession with photographing them, as if containing these strange alien figures, literally humming with power from an unknown elsewhere, capturing them within a frame, might tame them, make them safe.

The American composer La Monte Young used to spend hours listening to the hum of power lines, out of which came the four pitches of his „dream chord“, the harmonic basis for much of his music. Hood might have just such a dream chord – a magic harmonic formula that runs through their oeuvre. A lot of their signature driftwork guitar lines seem to stack up intervals in seconds, fourths and sevenths, just on the edge of harmony and dissonance; sweet – even lush – but always asking for a resolution that never comes. These are musical intervals on the cusp, outside the normal triadic basis of Western harmony; notes that would usually be in addition to this or that chord, but here shorn of that base of thirds and fifths which would ground them, and left free floating, deterritorialised.

Wetherby, home town to Hood’s only two constant members, the brothers Chris and Richard Adams, is likewise a town on the cusp, as Robin Carmody remarked in a 2002 review of their album, Cold House. On the cusp of „urban and rural, Labour and Tory, old mining villages and prime foxhunting country, hippie settlements and aggressively conformist working-class heartlands, and the Bradford estates with an almost entirely Asian population up against many rural areas which are pretty much all white“.

Like the harmonic intervals Hood favour, Wetherby is a town outside the normal circuit. There are few venues for live music in Wetherby and touring bands do not tend to stop there, so playing gigs, putting on club nights (Echolalia, Freedom Sounds in Pub), and going to see other bands, would always mean a trip to Leeds, introducing an irreducible geographic split between the domestic life of the group and its public life. They remain caught between a desire to „paint the town dead“ in a world which „touches too hard“ – the „blank city“ mentioned by Dose One on ‚you’re worth the whole world‘ – and a home „where it hurts“ located in a „cold house“. Several of the photos that decorate their record sleeves seem to be taken from moving trains or car windows.

For all that, there is a warmth to the swells of those guitars, the already distended, throbbing bass. It’s the electronics that really pile on the anxiety; the skittering electronic rhythms that underpin tracks like ‚any hopeful thoughts arrive‘ and ‚they removed all trace that anything had ever happened here‘ always sound jittery, on edge. Carmody could hear, in the electric crackles of ‚the winter hit hard‘, the burning pyres of the previous summer’s foot-and-mouth disease cull. Equally it could be the sparks from a loose cable, dancing erratically in the fluorescent light and concrete reverberation of an underground car park.

By contrast, the bursts of (usually guitar-produced) noise, as in the last two minutes of ‚diesel pioneers‘, don’t sound like bawls of frustration or womb-like sonic enclosures – on the contrary, they have an exultancy: like running through the fields yelling at the top of your voice because you can and because there’s nobody around to hear it. A lot of Hood’s music seems to have that uniquely bloody-minded self-assurance that comes from the belief that nobody is listening. Strange, uncompromised sounds often come about when the only audience you are trying to please is yourself and a few mates. This would also explain a certain restlessness with regard to style: from the noise rock of Cabled Linear Traction to the dubby folktronica of Cycle of Days and Seasons, the dreamy post-hip hop of Cold House to the stuttering electro-indie of Outside Closer.

Things have definitely changed by the time you get to 2005’s Outside Closer, the last of this suite of albums. You can actually hear (most of) the words; the strings and brass sound arranged rather than just played and edited later. That album came out in the same year as the Kaiser Chiefs‘ multi-platinum selling Employment and the same year that Dave Simpson, writing in The Guardian, saw a sudden surge of new bands coming out of Leeds and getting national attention: The Research, Duels, The Sunshine Underground, The Ivories – the latter on 48 Crash Records, the label run by Choque Hossein, Outside Closer’s producer. Since then the band have been on an extended hiatus, as though even this possibility of attention was too stifling.

Across these six discs, Hood have created a unique experimental cartography; the English countryside mapped out as an imaginary terrain inhabited by as much magic and mystery as David Lynch’s woods and small towns. The wind blows backwards through the trees, misplaced, half-remembered voices caught in the gusts through the branches; impossible creatures glimpsed out of the corner of your eye. If their pastoralism suggests a relation to the soil, then it must be stressed that this is a soil already fully alien and alienated in advance; a land haunted by the wiccan paleo-science of dub echo and house clicks, a terrain whose very topography produces dreamlike psychoacoustic mirages.

In a way, the parallel world which Hood made their own – a world of lens flares and super8 film, of the chance meeting of unlikely genres and styles on a Cubase dissecting table – has, in the last six or seven years since they stopped making records, become a kind of Pitchfork-approved hipster mainstream. But back in 1997 these were not obvious strategies. Hood were out in the wilderness in more ways than one. Looking back now over the albums and singles from Hood’s Domino period, it’s clear that these records are in many respects the culmination and crowning achievement of everything the more experimental side of that thing called ‚indie‘ music (which once actually had something to do with being on an independent label) ever tried to do, before it became interminably smug and self-referential, lost in the spin cycle of its own laundry.

For my part, they are probably the only band that I have listened to and loved consistently throughout the last fifteen years. And yet, strangely this review has been harder to write and taken longer than practically anything of comparable size I’ve ever written. I think the problem is I don’t really want to tell you what this music is like or what it means; I just want you to listen to it.

This entry was posted on Donnerstag, 1. März 2012 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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