Hood: Outside Closer

Hood: The Lost You

Outside Closer is the latest full-length (and, one wonders, if not the last, given song titles like “This Is It, Forever.” and “Closure”) from Hood, the Leeds group formed in the early '90s (debuting with the 1992 7-inch “Sirens”) and currently featuring the brothers Chris and Richard Adams, Gareth Brown, and Stephen Royle. Retreating from the electronic treatments that dominated its previous album, 2001's Cold House, Outside Closer signals a return to a more pastoral, acoustic sound, though there's still an electronic dimension if one subtly woven into the album's ten songs. The group's expansive arrangements marry muffled horns, melancholy strings, and delicate piano shadings to a fundamental core of breathy vocals, guitars, bass, and cymbal-laden drums; vocal support from Nicola Hodgkinson and The Remote Viewer's Andrew Johnson adds to the album's sonic lustre.

All of which sounds like the makings of a great record, but, in fact, aside from a modicum of admittedly spectacular moments, the album falls short—a good enough outing certainly, just not the masterwork one imagines it might have been. While the caliber of the arrangements impresses throughout, the songs themselves are at times melodically undistinguished, the album's potential impact diminished as a result. Too often, the material seems impressionistic, content to float past in lush but unmemorable manner.

Consider “The Negatives,” for instance, a languidly flowing folk-rock shuffle bolstered by a dreamy mix of accordion, acoustic guitars, and strings, its hushed vocals intoning bittersweet lyrics (“Go to the furthest place from your house / Stand there a while / Make sure you're broke / And watch the birds fly round!”). Despite such uplift and seeming promise, its arrangement impresses more than the generally hook-deprived song itself. Other songs that register in like manner include “L.Fading Hills” and “Still Rain Fell,” though the latter, while initially undistinguished, turns memorably poignant with the addition of mournful string playing. The least memorable piece, the ghostly “Winter 72,” exudes a slight shoegaze character with distorted vocals and dissonant guitar screeching but seems more a loose jam or improvisation than a bona-fide song.

Two in particular, however, stand out. Opening with ear-grabbing, stuttering rhythms that escalate into a loud and dense chorus, “The Lost You” (featuring a sped-up Robert Wyatt sample from Old Rottenhat's “Gharbzadegi”) impresses. The album stunner, though, is “Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive,” a remarkably accomplished exercise in arranging and dramatic development. Starting with skittish electronic beats and acoustic guitars, then joined subsequently by punchy drum eruptions, shakers, and breathy vocals, the song gathers greater momentum with the addition of strings, horns, and an insistent bass line, all occuring while the singer declares “There is a space between me and you.” Amazingly, the song ascends further, the drums and strings growing in intensity as horns and strings push the piece towards the dramatic climax it's been hurtling towards since its inception, before ultimately decompressing during its closing moments.

Interestingly, The Notwist is mentioned sometimes in the same breath as Hood but comparing the superior song-craft of Neon Golden with Outside Closer flatters the latter more than the former. Even so, there's no disputing the mastery of “Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive.” Had the entire album been of equal distinction, there would be no hesitation in crowning Outside Closer a masterpiece.

Hood also issued “The Lost You” on an EP prior to the album, leading aficionados to wonder if it's worth acquiring too. There's no need to hesitate on that point: The Lost You includes four songs not included on the full-length, making it inarguably a worthwhile companion. Two are vocal-based (“You Can't Breathe Memories,” which oozes a slightly psychedelicized feel in its multi-layered vocal treatments, and “The Rest Of Us Still Care,” nicely distinguished by lovely modulations and chiming guitars), while two are instrumental (the first an interlude that layers searing strings over blurry piano, the second a powerful, almost anthemic Four Tet-like piece driven by skittish beats and haunted voice babble). The EP is hardly a collection of leftovers, as the vocal pieces are equal in quality to the album's songs.

March 2005