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Step Right Up: Gauntlet Hair

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The new sophomore full-length player from Chicago-based duo, Gauntlet Hair heralds the latest release from the U.S independent label du jour, Dead Oceans. The label has been responsible for several stunning records so far this year – the soon-to-be-released ‘Nepenthe’ album by Julianna Barwick, indie-giants Califone and Akron/Family, and not least, Matthew Houck’s Phosphorescent. Gauntlet Hair fuse exhilarating worlds of brooding synth-based pop and multi-layered indie opuses that provide a sonic haven for any lover of indie music, in the truest sense.

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


Gauntlet Hair is the collaboration between drummer Craig Nice and singer/guitarist Andy R. The duo released their debut self-titled album in 2011, having released singles on prestigious labels such as Mexican Summer and Forest Family. ‘Stills’ is the title of their new record that encompasses a world of post-apocalyptic, where dark tones penetrate the headspace. The result is an immaculately produced and intricately layered sonic exploration into the heart of darkness. At the heart of ‘Stills’ is vintage rock ‘n’ roll; alive with pulsating beats and infectious melodies that makes for a formidable journey. ‘Stills’ was recorded in Portland, Oregon, during the cold of winter in “The Cave”, which is the name of the recording studio utilized by producer Jacob Portrait.

Album opener ‘Human Nature’ begins with pulses of bass and the meditative harmonies of Andy R. The opening notes are reminiscent of Royal Trux, where a cosmic spirit of deeply affecting rock ‘n’ roll breathes deeply into your bloodstream. Later, the drone of bass evolves into blissed-out guitar noise and anthemic beats. An anthem is born. The opening refrain is glorious, as it circulates along a whirlwind of nuanced guitar soundscapes: “When it comes out / It’s all I see / That’s when they tell me / It’s just your human nature.” A sense of euphoria escalates as a crescendo of dazzling beats and haze of guitar and synths conjures up the timeless sound of The Jesus And Mary Chain, as the lyrics reflect the epitome of cool: “They tell me that I make you smile one time a week.”

‘Spew’ contains a sublime slowed-down groove that magnificently fades into the mix. The opening bassline funk recalls another indie-classic from 2013, namely ‘II’ by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Interestingly, Jacob Portrait – who produced the Unknown Mortal Orchestra – is also on production duties here. Many beautiful parallels can be made between ‘II’ and ‘Stills’. Endless possibilities are attained in both records, where a musical vision brings forth illumination to the compelling sonic terrain. Much like ‘II’, a plethora of genres are seamlessly combined – psychedelia, funk, indie-pop, soul – that endlessly pushes the envelope. The vocals on ‘Spew’ reign supreme, and particularly on the opening verses, Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized can be an obvious reference point. The song builds into a divine funk-infused rock treasured creation.

The soulful strut of ‘Simple’ is a pristine funk cut that shares the sonic explorations of Ruban Nielson’s latest venture, ‘II’ and particularly, ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’. 60’s pop harmonies are interwoven between the Funkadelic-esque guitars and frenzied drums. The crystallization of psychedelic pop is formed here, as Andy R. sings “I am alive but I shouldn’t feel it.” ‘Bad Apple’ for me, is ‘Stills”s towering achievement. The vocals are whisper-like, that melt into the odyssey of clean guitar tones and irresistible pop hooks. A record that immediately comes to mind is ‘Veckatimest’ by Grizzly Bear. The Brooklyn band are responsible for some of the most compelling indie songs of a generation, and ‘Bad Apple’ has the hallmarks of Droste and co.’s wall of sound. The atmospheric soundscapes of synths, keys and guitar creates a dreamy pop canvas of technicolor sound.

‘New To It’ begins with drum machines and post-punk flavours of bass and beats. The song is slow and entrancing that seeps slowly into your brain. Yet again, more sounds are ventured down, from dub textures to psychedelic flourishes. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti comes to mind. ‘Obey Me’ begins part B of ‘Stills’ that tweaks with 80’s pop of Depeche Mode. The sequencing is wonderful, as the song fades perfectly into the fury of ‘Heave’. The duo’s teenage selves comes to the fore here, as they wear their influences on their sleeve. Says Nice, “I started listening again to the stuff I would have in my discman in the back of mom’s car. White Zombie, Marilyn Manson — the production on those records is so amazing. Nothing sounds like that anymore.”

‘GID’ is another highlight. Similar to Nice’s feelings of the production of Manson’s records, a pristine production of 80’s pop ascends before you, in their scintillating waves. INXS and New Order are etched on the canvas. A swirling sound of synthesizer – conjuring up the sound of heart-drenched strings – forms a gorgeous break in the song – before tear-stained harmonies mounts to the foreground. ‘Falling Out’ contains washed out guitars and a funk-driven beat, before hysteria of ‘Waste Your Art’ brings ‘Stills’ to a momentous close.


“Stills” is out now on Dead Oceans.


Written by admin

July 29, 2013 at 11:01 am

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