on life, music etc beyond mainstream

While bands are often associated with a particular location or place, it’s arguable that no act in pop music has ever shared so completely a symbiotic relationship with its landscape as Hood. Over the course of seven albums and eleven years, Hood’s music was in a state of almost constant evolution — from their early lo-fi years through to the IDM-inspired glitch-pop of their final two albums, via a brief spell as post-rock innovators — but their inspiration remained stable: the desolate and fractured environments of their Yorkshire home.

Richard and Chris Adams’ (the brothers who were the band’s only permanent members) childhood home was in Wetherby, an isolated northern satellite town roughly inbetween York and Leeds. Hood’s music is steeped in the post-industrial, post-Thatcherite atmosphere of northern England; in the region’s struggle to evolve into modernity; in the dichotomy between the rural, pastoral villages and farming communities which, by the 1980s and 1990s, were pressed up against the sprawling, multi-cultural metropolises that cities like Sheffield, Bradford, and Leeds were becoming. ‘Western Housing Concerns’, the first track from The Cycle of Days and Seasons, opens with the naturalistic ambience of a church organ, which is undercut with the repeating sound of mechanical machinery at work, as what sounds like a photocopier churning out copy, after copy, after copy. The discordant interplay between old and new functions as a microcosmic demonstration of the manifesto behind Hood’s work. Recollected — first released digitally last year to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Hood’s commercial and critical zenith, 2001′s Cold House, and now as a six-CD box set which brings together the band’s final four albums along with two compilations of EPs and rarities from the same period — presents the perfect opportunity to re-assess that work and its legacy.

In his essay that accompanies this collection, the critic David Hemingway makes a point of noting the season in which the Adams brothers formed the band. It’s an important detail. Although not detached nor distant, there is a coldness to Hood; winter finds its way into every crack of their music. Their songs often begin with an ambience, through which an isolated guitar note cuts like a crack in ice. The artwork for all these albums depicts the Yorkshire winter days where grey skies bleed into grey landscapes. The cover of the first album in this collection, Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys, shows a cloudy watercolour sunset, cut into by the silhouette of a house, and bisected by power-lines. Again we see the clash of nature with industrial modernity. Outside Closer‘s artwork, green and yellow flowers and cold white sky, and a rusted signpost reading “END OF ONE TRAIN WORKING”, is loaded with the same themes that Hood built a career out of exploring.

This isn’t just marginal detail. Hood’s music carries an intensely visual aesthetic; seeing, watching, and particularly darkness and light play a prominent recurring role in their lyrics. “You’re cast in ancient light”, a line Chris Adams sings on Cold House‘s ‘They Removed All Trace That Anything Had Ever Happened Here’, could be directed at the very music he is making, coming from a place so far removed from familiarity that it sounds like it has travelled across light years to get here. Richard Adams has since likened Cold House to “a particularly grainy postcard”, which would be a bizarre choice of imagery for almost another band, but seems perfectly fitting for Hood. It also brings us back to ‘Western Housing Concerns” photocopier. Hood’s production methods and the structure of their compositions (slowly laying one instrument atop another, slowly developing a few sparse sounds into something recognisable) frequently has the effect of simulacra, a copy of a copy of a copy, or a photograph exposed to sunlight for too long, something that demands attention and is more than simple reproduction of a source. To return to the artwork once more, Cold House‘s cover image is a reproduction of a blurry photograph taken of a low-res Super 8 recording projected onto Chris Adams’ basement wall. The “ancient light” that remains from the original hillside still spills through, but it is transformed and disfigured. The methods of composition Hood were deeply involved in by this point — looping samples, distorted drum machines, cut-up vocals and lyrics from cLOUDDEAD’s Yoni Wolf and Adam Drucker, the meanings of which Chris Adams confesses to not really understanding — are the logical musical conclusions of the visual imagery that fascinated them. Behind each sound lies another, each one closer to the original, which always remains inaccessible.

Throughout their career, Hood’s albums seemed to come in pairs. The early duo of Cabled Linear Traction and Silent ’88 are not included in Recollected as they were pre-Domino releases, and while their omission is a shame from a historical perspective, musically it’s debatable how much we’re missing. Certainly, it is their tetralogy of albums for Domino that present us with Hood’s most lasting legacy.

On the two earliest albums here, 1998′s Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys and 1999′s The Cycle of Days and Seasons, Hood don’t make a habit of riffs, nor even generally of playing a whole chord. Their guitars slowly build, one note on top of the other, pursuing their end, as Goethe advised, “without haste, but without rest”. The percussion is gentle but relentless, with the effect of rain beating against a window. That most of the tracks on Rustic Houses circle around the eight minute mark helps Hood build up their sonic landscapes, when their tracks do reach a crescendo, it is with a sense of interruption of the calm, like a violent storm, delivering a palpable sense of release and of breaking tension. Hood’s Yorkshire, with its bleak and unforgiving winters, is as accurately evoked as Dickens’ London or Joyce’s Dublin.

Though the post-rock tag followed the band for the rest of their career, it was already more or less redundant by the time of Seasons, which reinvented post-rock while it was still in the process of being invented. Seasons retained much of the stylistic and aesthetic tendencies of its predecessor, but eschewed the lengthy, meandering tracks in favour of more focused distillations of the same themes; and took a more experimental approach to composition. The album’s standout moment is the largely wordless ‘In Iron Light’ (there’s that word again), a dub-influenced ambient composition, which uses Chris Adams’ vocals as much as part of the texture of the song as a means to communicate his lyrics. It is the track which most clearly preempts Hood’s final pair of albums.

2001′s Cold House is the album this set was released to commemorate, and is generally the band’s most well-regarded. There are no doubts that a trajectory tracing Hood’s creative experiments would see its apex here. The Adams brothers were introduced to hip-hop duo cLOUDDEAD, who contributed directly to three tracks, and whose influence was felt far wider, as Hood began to interrogate their own influences and philosophy more deeply than ever.  “Sometimes the sunset doesn’t want to be photographed”, sings cLOUDDEAD’s Yoni Wolf on ‘Branches Bare’. Sometimes, nature resists modernity. Traditional instruments rub dissonantly against warped samples and somehow, despite being the album which most foregrounds modern recording techniques, Cold House is the album which sounds most alien, most ancient, like a document from a secret history. At once, Hood sound at their most comfortable and at their most restless. The Yorkshire that they built the preceding albums around was never the most inviting place, but nevertheless the Adams found some solace there. On Cold House, it is a positively hostile environment. On the album’s centrepiece, ‘The Winter Hits Hard’, Chris Adams sings in desperation that “this year has been so hard”. “You can feel the winter approach”, he says, as reverberating cymbal crashes sound like repeated physical attacks. Next, on one of the album’s more upbeat moments, ‘I Can’t Find My Brittle Youth’, he recalls “How you hated days that end so soon/Cause it makes your life slip away”. The dark days of northern winters have ceased to offer any comfort at all, and the song breaks down in spasmodic sampled percussion, echoing the failing consciousness of the protagonist.

Cold  House is probably Hood’s most distinctive and complete artistic statement, but for all the originality and inventiveness it holds, I have never been able to resist the pull of Hood’s final album to date, the haunting and wonderful Outside Closer. Lacking in its predecessor’s relentless intensity, Outside Closer makes clear its intentions from the opening of its first track proper, the string-drenched ‘The Negatives’. “Go to the furthest place from you house/Make sure you’re broke/And watch the birds fly ’round”, is the advice it offers. For the first time, Hood seem willing to believe that there are seasons other than winter; that a ray of light is more than just a break in the clouds; that not everything in Yorkshire is painted in shades of grey. The sketchy, tangled hip-hop beats introduced by Cold House remain, but here they are more vibrant, less claustrophobic, exploring a broader pallet of sounds than ever before.

With this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that it turned out to be the band’s final record. Outside Closer marks a resolution in the career of one of the most underrated bands this country has ever produced, and it is difficult to see where the band might have gone next. Chris and Richard have both separately released music since, as Bracken and The Declining Winter respectively, and both have largely abandoned the themes they interrogated so vigorously with Hood. Arguably, Hood never created a bona-fide masterpiece. With enough hindsight, this doesn’t seem to matter. The four albums here represent a stunningly complete cycle of work, with each sounding unique and distinct from every other, and each displaying another stage of evolution. There is perhaps a debate to be had about the utility of this box-set—only The Hood Tapes, a 24-track collection of rarities from the Domino-era, is unique to this collection, and while it contains some magnificent moments (‘This Year’s First Storm’ is a highlight of the band’s career), it alone hardly represents value. But the central point here is that, whether any of these albums in isolation deserves the accolade “masterpiece” or not, Hood are a band ultimately best understood when their career is viewed as a whole. For new listeners and for long-time fans, there has never been a better time to take a fresh look.

This entry was posted on Montag, 5. 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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