The recent release of Hood’s strikingly pan-generic ‘Silent 88’ on the Slumberland label presents the Terrascope with an ideal opportunity to trace the journey of this fine group of Leeds dreamers from their wall-of-feedback beginnings to their current position at the cusp of greatness. It is important that we do this, because if the rate of development evident between their excellent debut ‘Cabled Linear Traction’ and ‘Silent ‘88’ continues (and a listen to several tracks off their already-recorded third album ‘Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys’ suggests that it will) their place in legend will be assured, and we want to be able to say that we, and you our dear readers, were there at the origin of the star burst.
The songs on either ‘Silent 88’ or its notable predecessor suggest a view of post-industrial British life as a series of contrasts: melody and noise, acoustic and electric, pastoral and urban. With titles like ‘The Hay Harvest Had Special Charms’ and ‘Abstracting Electricity’: you don’t need post-graduate qualifications in linguistics to see where they are coming from. For their influences they cite the Bark Psychosis/Disco Inferno school of UK post-rock, the Bristol scene as represented by the likes of flying saucer attack, Movietone and Third Eye Foundation, the West Coast-and-beyond pop of The Beach Boys, Love, High Llamas and Talk Talk, and, very significantly, the antipodean song and sound craft of The Go-Betweens, The Chills and This Kind of Punishment. Any criticisms (and they have been made by the lazy) that Hood are a pale imitation of flying saucer attack are not supported by the evidence. The fsa vision is something like a kitchen sink collision between Jesus and Mary Chain and Popol Vuh. Hood are what Bark Psychosis might have sounded like had they come from Dunedin, and they are more likely to own Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works II’ and Spring Heel Jack’s ‘These Are Strings’ than anything by Popol Vuh. Hood are also about the interior life and introspective desires of that class of well-educated British youth that does not necessarily want to play the nine-to-five career game. A song title like ‘An Oblique View of an Irrationally Happy Life’ may sound more suited to a Museum of Contemporary Art installation, but it fits in with their sonic cinema verité without incongruity.
Richard Adams takes up the early history of the band:
Hood were formed in December 1990 by myself and my brother Christopher, mainly as a vehicle to make as much noise as possible with a newly acquired guitar and amplifier. We recorded ‘Songs’ live onto a tape recorder an they mostly consisted of screeching feedback and howling, distorted vocals. A tape fell into the hands of neighbourhood acquaintance Stewart Anderson, who offered his services as drummer and thus Hood as a practicing, recording entity was formed. Friends filled in on bass and guitar and our first gig was played in September 1991. Any response we had to tapes sent out was negative or confused, remembering that this was before Pavement, Guided By Voices, Sentridoh and the like. Comments like ‘awfully recorded’ and ‘bad musicianship’ were echoed back to us. Two people who were interested were Karren Ablaze of Ablaze! magazine, who gave the band an interview, and David McLaughlin of Fluff Records (Leicester-based noise-pop label) who agreed to release a single.
In 1992 the three song ‘Sirens’ single was released, the songs basically being feedback-drenched fuzz-monsters with barely audible vocals. Drummer Stuart left shortly after to concentrate on his own buzz-pop outfit Boyracer, and thus followed a time when the line-up of the band changed almost daily. A second single on the Fluff label was released ‘Opening Into Enclosure’, which featured seven different people playing on it. This was not a happy time for the band, and Richard says of these recordings:
The lead track ‘I Didn’t Think You Were Going to Hit You in the Face’ is feedback-free, upbeat and has a tongue-in-cheek feel about it, despite the fact that the band had effectively split during its recording, leaving me and Chris to finish it off alone in the studio.
Shortly after the ‘Opening Into Enclosure’ single was released, Hood had to play rare scheduled gig and still didn’t have a drummer. Andrew Johnson showed up at the gig having previously bought the ‘Sirens’ single, and in true rock mythology fashion ended up drumming that night. Thus the core of the current line-up was formed. I asked Richard about the importance of live work to the band:
Gigs have always been few and far between for us. I feel that it is important to limit playing live as it is easy for it to turn into a chore. Bands that play all the time tend to play to an audience and its responses. It is important for the longevity of a band to stay relatively unpractised and on the edge. Geography is also a reason for limited live appearances. The band has never been all together in one city and at present is spread around Leeds, Sheffield, Accrington, Manchester and Newcastle. There have been some truly bizarre incidents at our gigs over the years. Breaking up on stage in a disastrous show in Leeds at which our old bass player Matt walked off half way through. Mysteriously invited to In a City in Manchester in 1994, we played the unsigned stage with two of the most desperate bands ever: our 10 minute set was said to be an antidote if nothing else. And a chaotic set in London where we had to go off after four songs when Chris accidentally hit me over the head with his guitar...blood everywhere.
Over the next year or so a batch of songs was recorded at various locations, and when the band were happy with them a very low-key, limited release was done on Fluff. Thankfully ‘Cabled Linear Traction’ was rescued from obscurity by Slumberland in 1995 and given a ‘proper’ release (ie one to more than 50 people).
‘Cabled Linear Traction’ starts with ‘Norfolk’, a head clearing Branca-esque wall of guitar noise which resolves into a simply effective semi-acoustic pop song with clean lead guitar and driving bass reminiscent of the urgency of Go-Betweens ‘Cattle and Cane’. One is struck by the ease with which Hood mix together these diverse elements given the limitations of home recording, and already you sense that they have listened well to home recording pioneers and though long and hard about the possibilities opened up by the likes of Sebadoh, Guided By Voices and This Kind of Punishment. ‘Evening Return’ materialises in beautiful fashion with a fine guitar line mirroring the desolate romanticism of lyrics like “My house on the shore/the trawlers crash/because of me/because of you”. Vortices of scouring rhythm guitar noise elevate the chorus, underscoring the roller-coaster ride of conflicting emotions expressed by the song. At the end, the lines ‘I believe in you/I believe in this’, are motes dancing in a transitory ray of light. The atmosphere that infuses both this album and the next is by now clear. The dark emotional palette and forlorn poetry suggest a very European idea of the sensitive, intelligent young man as doomed romantic poet. The problem with committing to this aesthetic is that unless you do it very well, the results will be crashingly pretentious. Fortunately the brothers Adam walk this line with wit, restrain and the odd flashes of ironic humour. The wonderfully restrained and undemonstrative track that follows ‘Evening Return’ (labelled only by an ideogram in the sleeve notes) is reminiscent of Peter Jefferies at his most reflective, all neo-classical piano and hushed vocal ellipses. ‘Fades to End a Day’ is similar, but adds some gloomy cello to help along the exhausted sentiments of the song. The spirit of the Go-Betweens returns for ‘Small Town Prejudice’, but with some frenetic drumming replacing the precision achieved by Lindy Morrison. Chris bemoans ‘I fall by the wayside/by the way/by the way/by the way’ like someone wondering when the Prozac is going to kick in. Scattered between the songs, there are some great instrumental and song fragments, giving the record an appealing scrapbook-of-ideas feel, recalling some of the more fractal efforts of Robert Pollard or Alastair Galbraith. On side two, ‘Fashion Mistake of the Decade’ plays with the same sort of sequencer-like guitar patterns that can be found in the work of the much-missed Disco Inferno, and with its spoken vocal track points the way to ‘Silent ‘88’. Hood’s most unsettling material can be found on this side. ‘Summer’s Last Annual’ is brisk and wistful indie-pop, but has a stalker’s dysfunctional psyche: “Every day I make the same mistakes/But I wake up thinking the same thoughts...the same thoughts/Walk past your house/I’m near to your house/I’m near to you” and “Stop around for a while/Or take a walk/The music just drifts right out of the window/As I walk past your house/I hear the sound/The sound of fear”. The desperation and gravitas of Joy Division is tapped into for the overwhelming ‘Thinly Veiled Excuse for Something More’, which is wracked with an almost pre-suicidal degree of self-disgust. Thoughts like “I have tried but I have failed/I have thoughts but I don’t think/I don’t care any more” are carried with stately and powerful chord sequences and plenty of dynamics to a apocalyptic conclusion made up of tapes about the Georgetown massacre and concussive snare shots. None of this ever becomes an exercise in miserablism though, because the sense of melody and composition is strong enough to counterbalance the more pessimistic lyrical concerns.
In the meantime, multi-instrumentalist John Clyde Evans had joined the band in further serendipitious circumstances. He met the core Hood members at a party and asked to join. The second album ‘Silent ‘88’, which was recorded in a similar fashion to ‘Cabled Linear Traction’, tracks being worked on up and down the UK as job and college commitments allowed.
Hood’s increasing confidence is obvious from opening trio of songs on ‘Silent ‘88’. ‘The Field Is Cut’ is bizarrely reminiscent of The Smiths and the early but ephemeral promise of Thousand Yard Stare’s early ‘Weatherwatching’ and ‘Seasonstream’ EPs (but a lot noisier of course). The cycles of rural life are viewed in the typically equivocal way that is now a Hood trademark: “Autumn fields just start to die/In the towns no-one could care less/Autumn fields are cut and sewn/It’s not my fault but I feel responsible (for everything)”. And in typical “hanging on in quiet desperation” fashion, the song concludes with the resolve to “Just stay silent and burn inside”. ‘Hood Northern’ staggers around in a fog of off-kilter MBV-ish guitar rhythms, before clearing briefly for a sweet chorus over urgently strummed acoustic guitars and then back into the whirlpool of noise for the next verse. ‘Hood Northern’ is shambolic in the most drop-dead cool fashion like it is so easy for them to shoot great noise-pop classics form their fingertips like sparks of effortless lightning. ‘Delusions of Worthlessness’ is a return to the desperation of the first album, but its many layers of metallic minor key guitar textures are remarkably transporting. This track also marks the tentative introduction of Jungle break-beats into the Hood frame-of-reference, and towards the end the track these burst through the mix like panic attacks. Next, a couple of fragments, including the brief acoustic re-assurance of ‘At last! Riots on Spofforth Hill’ (which ends with mantra repetition of the unconvincing line “I’m not that desperate”) lead into the magnificent ‘Rural Colours’. which evokes a surprising degree of melancholy and regret at the passage of time for those of such presumably tender years. Gentle acoustic guitar and cello drips sadness onto words like: “One hour at a time/I never realised why/I sat down for a while/I never even felt/The time go past my eyes”. Elsewhere on side one, ‘The Hidden Ambience of a Lost Art’ evokes contemporary minimalism and structural oddness that would be out of place on a Gastr del Sol record, but with a lyricism foreign to Grubbs and O’Rourke. One side two, ‘Documenting Crop Rotations’ could almost be accused of satirising both Hood’s dominant thematic concerns and basement-fi recording ethos. ‘Her Innocent Stock of Words’ is possibly my favourite Hood song ever and it is difficult to imagine it being equalled, tapping as it does into the magnificent spring of melodic invention from whence things like the Chills’ ‘Pink Frost’ bubbled up. Pure jangling bliss and epic teenage emotions culminate in the bizarre-love-triangle chorus “I’d die for her/she’d die for you/You’d die for her”. ‘Trust Me I’m a Stomach’ takes these sentiments and throws them down a mine shaft and the only thing that escapes is the repeated phrase “touched by those ancient hands”. ‘Resonant 1942’ is as close as I ever want to get to a genuine air raid, and it is difficult to resist the urge to seek shelter as Hood give free reign to bomb-bursts and machine gun rattle of junglist percussion. Reaming tracks on the side are filled with fascinating production touches which point possible future directions for the band. Lo-fi four track clatter co-exists peacefully with sampled and sequenced guitars and found sounds. The title track creates a hypnotic dreamscape by looped strings and organ drones, with spoken vocal colourations providing an enigmatic narrative thread throughout. Percussive splashes of synthesiser add to the unease. Nymanesque systems music patterns seem to be an influence on ‘Love is Dead But Never Buried’ and ‘Silent Years’ on the single that is included with the vinyl version of ‘Silent ‘88’, which also makes good use of world-weary half-intoned vocals to reinforce the theme of elegant quietude and understatement that is the final impression left by this record. ‘Silent ‘88’ is almost a manifesto for new British rock, drawing together a powerful set of influences and swirling them into a potent mix of soundscapes realised with brooding immediacy by the ‘hit-and-run’ recording methods used. Where so much current British music is obsessed with style-over-substance and the sentimental rewriting of past pop glories, ‘Silent ‘88’ demonstrates that bands like Hood are genuinely interested in absorbing new ideas and creating great stuff from those ideas.
Richard sums up this first period of the band’s existence:
Although the first two LPs were critically praised, there is only so long that you can go on recording in that fashion. Many of the ‘Cabled Linear Traction’ and ‘Silent ‘88’ recordings were done by Chris alone, and some with just Chris and myself. These weren’t recorded as LPs, they were just collections of songs stuck together. Listening back to ‘CLT’, it sounds lovely and flows nicely. ‘Silent ‘88’ was very difficult to do and nearly impossible to put together and may be a better LP for it. All the early singles will be compiled next year on an LP being put out by Happy Go Lucky, and it will be interesting to see the response to it in these more acceptably experimental days.
Early 1996 saw a rush of fine singles, further increasing the band’s profile, and the band added another member during this time, Craig Tattersall, who had previous been an additional player for gigs. This now five piece line-up recorded the as-yet-unreleased third LP ‘Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys’ with Third Eye Foundation’s Matt Elliot.
Having fallen into possession of an exceedingly no-fi sounding preview cassette of three tracks of ‘Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys’ (a great, filmic title that Terence Davies would be proud of), I can say that disappointment with this upcoming Planet (where else?) release is unlikely. One of them is, of course, called ‘Untitled’ and it continues the tradition of simple and resonant arrangements such as those for ‘Fades to End a Day’ and ‘Rural Colours’, and its meditative excursion begins with the line “The ground is still wet from the rain”, and ends with the repeated thought “I regret everything” but with startling tape effects overlaying all with electronic weirdness (or it may just have been my tape copy). ‘The Leaves Grow Old and Fall and Die’ (have they been listening to Mourning Cloak?) is a pastoral narrative of considerable cumulative power. Wraith-like female vocals add wistfulness to the resignation of the spoken lyrics. The same female vocalist takes the lead to half-sing the very strange ‘Boer Farmsteads’. All three tracks are almost completely acoustic (apart from tape affects) and work through atmosphere and strong chord sequences.
As for the future, Hood have plenty of things in the pipeline. Richard explains:
We want to continue to experiment with music and push it as far as we can and try to keep it fresh in the long term by using different instrumental, recording and song writing techniques and ways of presenting the music. We are interested in introducing visuals into live performances, probably slides and Super 8. Just really a matter of time and energy. We have been using samplers for a couple of years now, but not really in a live environment. We embrace technology as long as it can be used in a positive way. There are endless ideas but we never have time to realise them, or forget about them! As soon as the ideas and enthusiasm stop, so will Hood.
Here’s hoping that is not going to happen anytime soon.
Written by Tony Dale based on an interview by Phil McMullen
© Ptolemaic Terrascope 1996