‘No Reunions’ – Dead Slow Hoot: Album Review

Joni Mitchell once famously lamented, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’. This apparently ubiquitous facet of human nature is so obvious it’s actually pretty banal. That is, until whatever it is you’ve got is all of a sudden gone.

For me one thing I didn’t know I got ’til it was gone is indie rock. Of late I’ve been mourning the slow but sure vanishing of what was once a powerhouse of a subgenre; a friend and bed-fellow that I ended up taking for granted like the Big Yellow Taxi-catching metaphor of Mitchell’s rueful eco-cataclysm folk classic. I miss those days when every year witnessed the birth of glorious albums full of gloriously catchy songs from guitar bands who cared profoundly about the rich sounds of their creative ancestors’ rock ‘n’ roll. Bands who were not afraid to wear their influences proudly on the sleeves of their tight-fitting, obscure band tee-shirts and sport daft, fastidious Noel Fielding-esque hairdos. You remember, those days before hipster irony and dull artifice killed earnest indie music’s vibe, before Pitchfork descended into R&B-loving, hip-hop worship parody, back in the glory days of yore. I admit it, I started to take those kind of bands for granted. I confess I even got a little bored of the 60s/70s/80s nostalgia-schtick… until the well began to run dry and the drought set in. Now I cradle my aging Strokes CDs, weeping freely for the grand old halcyon indie days, for that wonderful era when reinventing past rock ‘n’ roll glories and shaping them into new wild forms was a prosaic, every-year occurrence.

green room lounge

So it’s with this kind of attitude I encountered Dead Slow Hoot a few years ago, playing at one of Alex Del Mango’s tropical ‘New Grooves’ nights in the Cremorne. Being not massively tropical Dead Slow Hoot were an odd fit to the evening’s zeitgeist, a bit of a musical oxymoron. In my mind somewhere I sighed, wondering whether news of indie rock’s sad demise had not yet reached Sheffield, whether there was some kind of forcefield generated by the rock-idol dreams of 1,000 teenage Alex Turner wannabes that had enveloped the city in some kind of protective nostalgia fugue. And yet despite all of these misgivings I was impressed; this band sounded great, they had presence, and they played indie that didn’t sound like the Arctic Monkeys. Their music resonated, it had power and gravitas.

melancholista owl noise ruminations

Fast-forward 3 years and the still decidedly untropical Dead Slow Hoot have released their debut album, ‘No Reunions’, following a series of pretty gorgeous EPs and a recent signing by Philophobia Records. OpenerEach Day Disasteris a beautifully poised slab of guitar melancholia, an epic unfolding that builds and swells into a squall of icy synth melody, distorted bass and thundering Hal Blaine drums. Just beneath the surface there’s even free-jazz saxophone. This resplendent cacophony shimmers and dissipates into the laconic ‘Wine Country, where Hugo’s earnest, sonorous voice rises languid and plaintive above sub-aquatic guitar and understated drums. It has wonderful economy; it’s a meticulously constructed gem, with everything in it’s right place. The traditional vocal chorus is jettisoned and in its place floats a gorgeous synth line. There’s something Arcade Fire-like about all this, but more wistful, less theatrical, more dreamy. Right up to the point it explodes into a melancholic fervour of catharsis and beautiful noise: then it really sounds like nothing but Dead Slow Hoot themselves.  

If Dead Slow Hoot have a trademark then perhaps this is it: languorous, wistful songs that build and finally erupt into mountain ranges of wonderful, life-giving distortion, into walls of sound, into sonic storms of emotional deliverance. Certainly the first two songs fit this rubric, but then not so much Hysterical Strength, which skips the wistful life-history stage and is instead born twitchy and energetic right from the get-go. Listening to the powerful lift and soar of the chorus I can easily imagine these guys banging out their tunes on the main stage at Glastonbury to a wild, writhing, adoring crowd losing their shit under a star-scattered night sky. There’s a classic, supremely confident quality to these songs that is really unusual in a local indie band, they have a sense of self, a lightness of touch, a fullness of expression that is remarkable. Indie rock is such a difficult musical ocean to navigate and stand out in because it is so full of planktonic dross; the genre’s tendency to idolise the past means that for every one good band there are at least 1,000 Arctic Monkey clones or bowl-cut mod-revival Paul Weller doppelgangers who relentlessly roam the Carling-stained venues of our cities’ indie scenes, passing off their nostalgia-karaoke as some kind of tepid lad-art. Even the genuinely talented classic indie rock bands that emerged this millenium have largely been (unapologetically) the musical love-children of great bands from earlier eras. What set our hearts alight when we listened to The Libertines or Arcade Fire or The Walkmen was not their blinding originality but that somehow from the melting pot all of the obvious influences their music rose above the surface waters of indie banality, rose by dint of their ability to meld the disparate strands of their heritage into a brand new story, a weave of sublime songs that catapulted them far into the dizzying stratospheric heights of greatness and legend. What made them stand out was essentially the ability to be at once a loyal reimagining and also something new and imbued with genuine feeling, a hybrid of powerful ancestral forces and yet still something vital and contemporary.

signage of nominal inspiration

Happily this is the category of sonic loveliness in which Dead Slow Hoot croon: they are simultaneously nothing radically new (I can hear echoes of Joy Division, Interpol, Echo & the Bunnymen) yet at the same time their musical voice is clear and true and exciting and their own. Their songs are fantastic, and full of meaning – try listening to the lament of ‘An Island Keen to Float’ or the goosebump-triggering ‘Below’ and not feel something. The latter of the two – ‘Below‘ – is a particular album standout, a lush and melancholy song which constructs a whole new dialect of emotion upon the foundation stones of Hugo’s wistful nonchalance and Lukke’s wending, serpentine Hookian bassline. And despite the classic feel of ‘No Reunions’, Dead Slow Hoot do stray occasionally from the path of the standard indie rock roadmap with excellent results, like on the chiming, arpeggiated ‘Everything Will Be OK’ with it’s elegantly disintegrating, swirling outro. Perhaps an augur of future experimentalism?

My only real quibble with this album is ‘Chromoluminarist’, a soundscaped ramble of electronic noises, synth drones, and vaguely philosophical talky bits. It’s a little bit pointless (or maybe not, but it has me flummoxed), a B-side at best, and is a distracting aside on an otherwise well-balanced and beautifully poised album. Dead Slow Hoot are not the first and won’t be the last to wander down this kind of blind alley (think Radiohead’s one-shot ‘Fitter Happier’, Mango Rescue Team’s baffling ‘En Las Playas’, The Beatles’ eminently skippable ‘Revolution 9’). But it’s an easily forgivable misstep and you barely have time to raise an eyebrow before Dead Slow Hoot launch into the absolutely epic ‘Returning To Ruin’ to close what is an incredible debut. It’s all here, the breath-taking song writing, the instrumental nuance, the emotional kick, Hugo’s resonant voice, the delicious production (courtesy of Nick Cox) and mastering (courtesy of Martin Gregory Smith of Mu Studios): this is a classic album, a fantastic achievement and a breath of fresh air for any indie kids out there yearning for some melancholy earnestness, for some feeling in their music. Indie Rock is Dead?? Long Live Indie Rock! Long Live Dead Slow Hoot!

~ Henrik Endor

Grab your copy of Dead Slow Hoot’s ‘No Reunions’ here!

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