Sometimes, you can tell a book by its cover. As a clue to what lies inside, Outside Closer is the perfect title for a Hood album, for over their 14 years on the indie fringes, these Leeds boys have evolved a noise that manages to evoke both the open expanse of the countryside and a real sense of claustrophobia. Equally helpfully, earlier albums suggest the rustic influence: Rustic Houses Forlorn Valleys and The Cycle Of Days And Seasons for example, whilst their last effort, 2001’s remarkable Cold House, is redolent of the dark, urban interior.
So are there to be any surprises within? According to the press release, Hood have striven manfully this time round to think ‘brave’, ‘soul’ and ‘pop’ as opposed to ‘nice’, ‘chill out’ and ‘indie’. Clearly, they want to gain a broader audience than just the chin-stroking intelligentsia at All Tomorrow’s Parties. This explains why there’s been a three year wait: songs have been written, re-written and ditched in the search for the solution.
So, what is the result of this labour? First song proper and future single The Negatives certainly lives up to these promises of a more direct approach. The lo-fi, scratchy beats of old have been upgraded to a more professional, tambourine driven rhythm. The sparse desolation of the instrumentation has been augmented to give a denser and, yes, more pop effect. Even Chris Adams’ quiet, breathy vocals sound urgent and purposeful in comparison. “Go to the furthest place from your house!” he says, “Stand there for a while!/Make sure you are broke!/And watch the birds fly round!” A great start.
The momentum is maintained with Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive, although this time we gradually build from the loosest of throbbing beats, via a chiming guitar hook, until eventually all hell breaks loose with a beautiful cacophony. Again, the fuller sound is in evidence, and whilst we’re not talking Barbie Girl here, the pop leanings are marked.
Where the album does perhaps disappoint is with the more desolate tracks, such as Winter 72 and End Of One Train Working, the sort of music Hood used to master. In this context, such songs sound aimless and plodding. Much of the space-rock beauty they achieved on Cold House seems to have been lost in the quest for professional directness.
The momentum isn’t lost for long though. First single and unquestionable album highlight The Lost You, with its stop-start, yet fluid, driving force, strange backward effects and superbly delivered vocals, brings everything back into focus. Thereafter, the rest of the album frankly struggles a touch under the shadow of such a fine tune, meandering gently back and forth before gradually petering out with the whimper of This Is It, Forever.
Let’s hope this isn’t it, forever. Bands full of this much character are to be treasured. Whilst not as affecting as their previous work, Outside Closer hints at a possible wider appeal in future , something that this lot truly deserve.