Toronto’s indie-rock darlings Hooded Fang may have only released their UK debut LP Tosta Mista a little over a year ago, but here they are, back with another 10 songs of ‘sun-dappled ramshackle garage pop’ (their words). The new album is cheerily titled Gravez, with a jaunty little ‘z’ just to throw everyone off a bit. Oh, you guys. You guyz.
It’s impossible not to love Hooded Fang, a band who seemingly never go anywhere without at least one piece of Fair Isle knitwear on their collective person and also happen to be responsible for such irresistible, DIY-tinged indie tunes as Highway Steam and Vacationation. Gravez sees Hooded Fang continuing the trajectory they’ve been drawing since their first album – called, uh, Album – came out in 2010. 2012’s Tosta Mista was released after the band had shed a few members – going down from the sprawling Arcade Fire-like setup that Canadians seem especially fond of, to a more conventional four-piece garage band. Tosta Mista was accordingly a little scrappier, a little more frenetic than the band’s melodic debut; Gravez is even more so.
Gravez starts off with Dry Range Intro, a fairly pointless 26 seconds of flangy guitar noise with a bit of a bass groove to it. There seems to be a bit of a trend for this sort of nonsense at the moment – intros and outros, interludes and what-have-you. Why? Does anybody even listen to these? If your album’s only got eight songs, why try to disguise that fact? Led Zeppelin IV only had eight songs, and no one complained. There’s a Dry Range Outro, too, at the end – an almost identical 30 seconds of flangy guitar noise. You can ignore these. Where the album really begins is with its title track, a three-minute surf-punk thrash that will burn itself into your brain with the intensity of a thousand furiously smouldering cigarettes, it’s catchy-as-hell ‘ba-ba-b-ba-b-ba-ba-baaaaa’ middle eight demanding you sing along – or at least jiggle about a bit in your office chair.
Hooded Fang might hail from Canada but Gravez’s sound has that quintessentially American warm, twangy and slightly muffled quality to it, as though recorded in a dusty saloon bar in the Wild West, observed by a legion of toothless men drinking bourbon. The brilliantly atmospheric Ode To Subterrania drives on like a cattle train, its bouncing rhythm section dragging the whole thing along while tinny, Dick Dale-esque surf-rock guitars reverberate over frontman Daniel Lee’s world-weary croak. Bye Bye Land and Wasteland could be ancient Chris Isaak cassette tapes left out in the sun for too long, the former a mournful, echoing desert ballad and the latter a chugging roots rock number with a piercing, almost flamenco guitar line, while Trasher and Never Minding are engagingly unsettling with their interlocking lines of warped guitar, rubbing up against each other like twisted metal.
If Tosta Mista was a riotous indie party, Gravez is the soundtrack to the morning after, driving home through the badlands on a serious comedown – the title track sees Hooded Fang “covered in ash from the night before”; later, among the metallic sweetness of Never Minding, Lee sings about truck stops, open wounds and “looking for a place to die”. Despite the dark lyrics, though, Gravez steers clear of downright misery, its endearing melodies lifting it to a kind of dignified mournfulness. Hooded Fang reference stalwart genres of old Americana without ever falling into parody – Gravez feels nostalgic but never dated. If you’re likely to spend your summer either on a road trip or wishing you were on a road trip, here’s your summer album.