Stills... Produced, aptly, by a man named Portrait
Review: Gauntlet Hair – Stills
Published on August 5th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
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That Gauntlet Hair recorded their second album Stills with Unknown Mortal Orchestra producer Jacob Portrait came as something of a surprise, so markedly different is their blazing trail to UMO’s laid-back, groove-hitched psych-pop.
“I started listening again to the stuff I would have in my discman in the back of my mom’s car,” said Craig Nice, one half of the Chicago duo alongside Andy Rauworth. “White Zombie, Marilyn Manson: the production on those records is so amazing. Nothing sounds like that anymore.”
We’d love to make like a movie trailer and boom “until nooowww!” in your faces, but those reference points are misleadingly industrial. Gauntlet Hair’s blaring, futuristic “noise pop” feels more aligned with Big Black Delta, at least to Rocksucker’s ears.
A cursory glance at the tracklist may not bode entirely well to you – we’re thinking specifically here of “Spew” and “Heave” – but, fortunately or otherwise (depending on what kind of person you are), Stills is not a concept album about vomiting.
Opening track and single “Human Nature” brings to mind Liars’ WIXIW album of last year by slinging a druggily understated vocal over a heaving electronic undercurrent. Much is going on within the mix, so our curiosity is nice and piqued at this early stage.
Its pulse quickens and it builds up into quite the rush, thereby aligning it in our mind with the Big Black Delta LP. Later on, “Heave” reinforces this alliance by swarming a clapping drum machine with ghostly samples and swipes of distorted guitar.
“Heave” really pummels the joint, getting all shouty and growly in our faces on its way to consolidating the notion that Gauntlet Hair could take on all sorts and still come out smelling of roses. Poisonous roses, maybe, but roses nonetheless.
Before that, “Simple” makes a bold claim for standout status with its superb stomping blast of distorted pop brilliance, piling up ingenious touches like this sentence has piled up adjectives. Think early Blur, but shrouded in digital disorientation.
There’s not quite something for everyone – is there ever, truly, on any album? – but there’s enough diversity to suggest another bold leap forwards on the next album. The monged, disturbed “G.I.D.” changes the pace as effectively as “Heave” in its way, an entirely different one at that, while the ornate string breakdown on “Waste Your Art” comes as a surprising show of elegance.
Stills is the sound of Gauntlet Hair trying out all sorts and seeing what sticks. Commendably, most of it does.
Stills is out now on Dead Oceans.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!