Wednesday, January 6, 2016

album review: 'leave me alone' by hinds

Okay, so Rachel Platten's major label debut was boring mediocrity... and we're still in early January and I need something to talk about. Maybe the indie scene will have something interesting, something with a little fire...

Well, in this case I went straight to Pitchfork and to my surprise found a group that I did recognize from a few years back when I was randomly browsing YouTube. They were a Spanish indie rock quartet called Hinds, and I do remember hearing some of their early singles back when they were still called Deer. And I remember mostly liking a lot of what I heard - basically I'd describe them as a poppier Ex Hex by way of The Black Lips, but younger, lighter, more exuberant and more scattershot as a result. It was rough around the edges and kind of disjointed, but at least it was interesting, and I figured that digging into a debut - that dropped a lot later than I would have expected, given that the recording was reportedly finished back in spring - could be pretty fun. So I checked out Leave Me Alone - peculiar title for what I thought was a pretty loose and upbeat band, so what did we get?

Hmm... you know, I get the feeling that I should like this album a bit more than I do, because this is a weird little release that I'm not sure holds as well it might seem initially. Bizarrely, I kind of wish this album was more aggressive or punk than it is, perhaps a little more straightforward - but I'm not going to deny the messy nature of it all does have a certain charm, only perhaps diminishing returns. So yeah, I actually like Leave Me Alone a fair bit, but I feel I should probably like this more, and yet when placed against its immediate comparisons - Ex Hex, The Black Lips, especially Alvvays - Hinds doesn't measure up as well as I'd like.

And I want to start with the writing here, because capturing the lyrical tone of this record is kind of tricky. Like Ex Hex, many of these songs focus on complicated, very human relationships - but where the guys in many of those situations were painted as manipulative dicks, Hinds goes for a blurrier picture. The best way I can describe it is that it's smart enough to recognize the obvious faults in these guys - drunken, self-absorbed, with douchy friends and indecisive to boot - and yet the girls still seem to want some form of connection - probably more emotionally earnest than they should be, and I'd argue on some level they probably know that. There are songs like 'Bamboo' and 'Chili Town' where they almost expect the guys to have more of their deal together, if only because Hinds has their own neuroses to deal with and they're looking for support, not more trouble. That makes the Ex Hex comparison all the more stark, especially thematically - for as messed up as some of these relationships are, and how in a rational sense it's better to be rid of them, it doesn't mean it's not going to hurt or get messy or that they want to be single. And yet they're a more earnest group, and thus we get songs like 'I LL Be Your Man', where they decide to step up, subdue things, and offer to help, which lets the album closer 'Walking Home' hit a surprisingly upbeat payoff as they manage to give and take in this relationship and find some shape of stability. I do wish the writing was a little less scattershot and all of the place - even though I'm fairly certain the most ambitious song 'Castigas En El Granero' intends its 'trapped in a barn' scene as extended metaphor, it's also an example of how songs can build to one central idea or motif and not really develop it more deeply, although I would argue 'Easy' and 'Chili Town' are good exceptions.

And look, I'm not going to deny it fits the musical tone, which is very much driven by our frontwomen. I initially was kind of thrown off by Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote play off each other - they both can get loud and jarring and the lo-fi nature of the vocal pickups doesn't take off any edges - but ultimately it works, with Cosials playing things a little wilder in her higher range, both cooing and shouting, and with Perrote's lower tone a little more reasoned and measured. That said, the overall wildness of the delivery can feel a little overdone for their backing instrumentation, which is why I wish this album opted to play things a little faster or more punk - the styles would blend a little better. And that's not counting the points where the vocals can just feel a little sloppy - again, it's lo-fi, you expect this, but I'm not going to deny that slurring your lines can get exasperating.

And on that topic, let's go into instrumentation and production - and honestly, this is the area where I have the least to say. Rattling electric guitars that let the strums and melody sit pretty prominently in the mix with basslines and percussion that could probably use a little more to do beyond some barebones arrangements... that's pretty much the formula for this entire album. And yet Hinds do a fair bit to keep things interesting, like giving that bass more prominence to open up 'Fat Calmed Kiddos' that leads to a decent chorus tempo shift, or how 'Easy' coasts off a pretty languid vibe before kicking into one of the stickiest melodic hooks on the album, to the more restrained 'And I Will Send Your Flowers Back' which subverts its hippy vibe with the frustration lurking beneath it. And while some have complained that 'Solar Gap' is a lull in the album, I'd argue it's essential - not only does it give us a well-deserved break, it's got one of the better melodies on this album. Hell, I'd argue when the guitar tone gets a little higher and those melodies move closer to the forefront, we get some of the most distinctive points on the record. Unfortunately, that doesn't often happen, and I'm not going to deny that some of the less-complex grooves can start to blur together a bit, and it doesn't help that the momentum kind of sputters out in the quarter of the record, with 'Walking Home''s tempo shifts not really drawing enough to stick a potent landing. And look, it's hard not to deny the playing on this record can feel a little rough around the edges at points, which is mostly why I wish this record went a little harder and faster, if only to add more contrast and match our frontwomen a bit more.

In the end, though, I liked this debut album from Hinds. It's messy, a little too earnest for its own good, and can feel a little misshapen at points, but I'm not going to deny there's an emotional core and throughline to this record that feels authentic and pretty potent, and there are some great melodies here. It's not going to be for everyone - if you're not into this rougher brand of lo-fi garage rock this'll definitely test your patience - but for me it's a very light 7/10 and definitely a recommendation if you're interested. It may have taken a while, but I'm glad that in the end, Hinds delivered.

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