I know that, for some, Hood’s experimentation with glitchy electronics on Cold House was a bit too much on the gimmicky side (to say nothing of their collaboration with members of experimental hip-hop outfit cLOUDDEAD). While the electronic stylings of Cold House aren’t entirely gone from Outside Closer, they’re present in a much more refined and natural form, and feel much more solidly integrated into the band’s overall sound. As a result, Outside Closer feels like something of a missing link between Cold House and the more pastoral sounds of Rustic Houses Forlorn Valleys and The Cycle of Days and Seasons.
This can best be heard on “Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive,” which begins with sputtering beats and sharp glitchy stabs. But almost immediately, a sparse acoustic guitar drizzles down over top of the jittery electronics, tempering and smoothing them out for the band’s breathy vocals. Meanwhile, forlorn strings and distant horns slowly begin enveloping the track, imbuing it with an eerie melancholy that perfectly matches the dreary English countrysides whose photos have always adorned the group’s artwork.
The same acoustic guitars open up “End Of One Train Working,” creating a delicate lattice through which dying violins and layers of wispy vocals drag themselves through. The more closely you listen to the track, the more apparent it becomes just how adept Hood is at layering their sounds, at creating hypnotic pieces that lull you into the same sort of half-lucid state that normally accompanies staring out your living room window on dreary, overcast days.
Breaking up this melancholy monotony is the album’s first single, “The Lost You,” which sounds like it was constructed out of shards from all of the glitchy bits that didn’t make it onto Cold House. Listening to it is a bit like staring at a kaleidoscope in which all of the pretty glass fragments don’t quite fit together into their patterns. The song just scuds, skips, and scrapes along, its pieces always seeming in danger of tearing eachother part. While it makes sense as a single, as in some ways, it’s the album’s most upbeat and “pop” track, it also sticks out the most from the rest of the album’s pace.
The second half of the album moves back towards the rustic, pastoral sounds of their earlier releases, which is a very good thing in my book. Although I enjoyed the new sonic elements that the band has experimented with on their recent recordings, I don’t find them nearly as intriguing or captivating as the more “standard,” drone-oriented arrangements that the band employed on The Cycle of Days and Seasons (still my fave Hood release).
“L. Fading Hills” is a wonderfully atmospheric piece that sounds as if it was recorded at twilight, with the barely-there vocals meandering through layers of reverbed piano, shuffling drums, and distant, slumbering drones. As with all of the songs, it’s often hard to decipher what, exactly, is being sung — which only adds to the mystique. Occasionally, one will catch abstract blurbs such as “So gather all your leaves in hand/And I will turn the other way,” but as with so much of Hood’s music, it’s less about what’s being sung than how it’s being sung, the syntax being less important than the context.
The twilight metaphor also applies to the aptly-titled “Closure,” perhaps even moreso. Echoing pianos, church organs and bells, barely audible conversations, and the requisite drones all stretch across the song’s landscape. This time around, the vocals come across much more clearly, which doesn’t exactly lighten the mood as they’re all about dissolution, betrayal, and regret — “Sorry won’t make you stay/Sorry won’t kiss your face/Light is already gone/Dreamt that our love lived on.”
Part of me finds it hard to believe that it’s been over 3 years since the last Hood full-length, 2001’s Cold House. However, time never seems to pass for the Leeds-based outfit. It’s always grey and overcast where they come from, with a cold snap to the air, foreboding in a perpetually “winter is just around the corner” sort of manner.
Hood has been perfecting their mope-making skills for the better part of a decade now, and they show no signs of departing for sunnier and warmer climes. Something that I, for one, am thankful for. Although I can easily see how many might find their music simply depressing at best, and insufferably boring at worst, I’ve always found myself easily caught up in their music, and the palpable sense of nostalgia that pervades it.
In my review of The Cycle of Days and Seasons, I mentioned that there’s “a certain air of resignation… a sense of loss for something you didn’t even know you had” about Hood’s music, which I have always found affecting and haunting. And I’m glad to say, as I find myself in the midst of yet another Nebraska winter, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Few bands convey the dreariness of the colder seasons, as well as the wistfulness for something better as well as Hood does, and Outside Closer is yet another proof of that.