We Know About The Need by Bracken (Review)

Those expecting to hear the pastoral soundscapes that Hood meanders through on their albums might be a bit surprised.
We Know About The Need, Bracken

When Hood released Cold House in 2001, I’m sure it took some of their listeners by surprise. Previous Hood albums such as The Cycle of Days & Seasons and Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys possessed a meandering, folk-inflected take on ambient post-rock that referenced Bark Psychosis, Flying Saucer Attack, Talk Talk, and Disco Inferno. Cold House, however, eschewed much of that, replacing and augmenting Hood’s characteristic bent and nostalgic sound with icily glitchy electronics, programming, and skewed hip-hop vocals courtesy of cLOUDDEAD’s Doseone and Why?.

The change actually worked for the most part, and Cold House is an album that I find myself returning to — especially during the winter months, when Cold House’s chillier electronic aspects are perfectly suited to the ice-covered trees, slate-grey skies, and knife-like winds.

Hood’s last full-length, 2005’s Outside Closer, pulled back on the electronics a bit, a struck a better balance between Hood’s “new” and “old” sounds. However, listening to We Know About The Need, the debut full-length from Bracken (aka Chris Adams, who forms the core of Hood with his brother Richard), its obvious that someone’s curiosity was piqued way back in 2001, and even earlier.

Those expecting to hear the pastoral, twilit soundscapes that one finds Hood meandering through on their albums might be a bit surprised. Those soundscapes are still there for the most part, but this time they’ve been captured, skewed by, and filtered through a battery of samplers, laptops, and software. Snippets of guitars, drums, organs, keyboards, pianos, vocals, and heaven knows what else can be heard drifting through the album’s eleven songs, but that’s really all they are — snippets that have been sent bouncing around through the aether, colliding and ping-ponging off each other by Adams’ programming.

In other words, think Autechre rather than Mark Hollis.

It can make for a frustrating listen, as it seems like Adams is more interested in seeing just how far he can push his laptop to distort and fracture his sound banks, to send them skittering around scattershot-like. Which isn’t surprising given Adams own description of the Bracken project as an attempt to sound exactly like a pop band being frozen solid and then shattered into a million pieces.

But after awhile, all of the skewed, glitch-addled elements tend to blend together into one mass of twitching, shivering sound. When he harnesses all of the cut-up snippets, epileptic rhythms, and glitches and puts them in the service of actual songs, however, the results can be quite fascinating and just as haunting as Hood’s music.

Shards of kaleidoscopic guitar bouncing around within “Fight Or Flight“ s framework, dancing about like caustic light reflections on a darkened bedroom wall and lending the song an openness and airiness that is quite unique on the album. Especially when the Reich-esque vocal and percussive snippets come drifting in through the shards’ patterns. Echoing dulcimer-like tones set the tone on “Four Thousand Style,” giving the song a certain stateliness that helps bolster Adams’ breathy, world-weary vocals, reverberating dubby drums, and layers of organ.

“Back On The Calder Line” winds down We Know About The Need with its most haunting moments, as spectral bits of guitars (or are they heavily processed vocals?) are caught in a perpetual downward spiral that circles around Adams’ tentative, pensive voice — which seems to grow increasingly insistent and anxious as the song unfolds over the next seven minutes or so. The song as a whole strikes a spookily mournful tone, which is only added to by the wavering-yet-monolithic organ, atmospheric textures and vocal cries that smack of middle-eastern minarets and bazaars, and garbled bits of conversations.

Again, there are moments where the lines between all of these fascinating snippets simply blur altogether, turning into something out-of-focus, indistinct, and smudged. Which, depending on your mood, could mean simply impenetrable and obtuse, or completely ephemeral and otherworldly.