It feels like I saw The Hundred in the Hands open for the Temper Trap lifetimes ago in Philly and Boston, when in actuality, it has been less than 2 years. Given the change in musical climate, I think I could be forgiven for my mind being deceived. While there are some acts that have flourished by using electronics in an obvious and knowing way (Grimes, James Blake), it seems to me that there seems to be a bit of a backlash, reminiscent of disco being booed off the baseball field in the early ‘80s: Ladyhawke’s ‘Anxiety’ (review here) is Pip Brown’s way of trying to extricate herself from the electropop label, and Little Boots’ new singles ‘Every Time I Say a Prayer’ and ‘Headphones’ are garnering mixed response. Their 2010 self-titled debut (reviewed here) relied on Eleanore Everdell’s voice, dreamy at times but always rising to the occasion above relatively clean instrumentation, such as catchy synth melodies and Jason Friedman’s crashing guitar riffs. On their second go around, the real life couple from Brooklyn appear to be taking a darker approach with the new release ‘Red Light’.
You can tell things have changed straight away as the album opens with ‘Empty Stations’. It’s a slow build towards the 1-minute mark, with melancholy guitar allowed a couple spare notes before the driving beats lay into you. Everdell’s voice comes in, sounding as great as she did on ‘The Hundred in the Hands’, before the song builds to a climax into minute 2. Whoa. I need to take a step back. The assault on your ears feels like war has been waged, and I’m not sure if the cacophony is what the doctor ordered: the overall effect is too much. Frankly, the song leaves me frightened. Maybe the ‘Red Light’ album name is a warning?
So it was with much relief that ‘Recognise’, the next song, shows much more restraint. Dreamy vocals, even dreamier synths and gentle passes of a guitar = the electronic world’s definition of sexy. ‘Faded’ is even more dreamier, if it’s even possible. Now this is more like the Hundred in the Hands I used to know. ‘Keep It Low’, which we gave away in April, feels both New Order and Depeche Mode in its industrial clanking but with its dance beats, it pulls me in, completely mesmerising in its rhythms and Everdell’s ever expansive voice. ‘Tunnels’ is Bananarama and an ‘80s vibe, combined with a menacing, thudding beat. It’s like ketchup and mashed potato together: it shouldn’t be good, but it is. (Yes, I do eat my mashed potatoes with ketchup. Don’t judge.)
‘Come With Me’, while showing signs of bleakness and hardness akin to ‘Empty Stations’, has more focus than the first track and comes across well in an epic rock way, almost Muse-like. ‘SF Summer’ does this also, but to a lesser extent. (I do pray the Hundred and the Hands won’t be compared with Amy Lee and the American band Evanescence, which I’m guessing the lazier of music journalists will compare this album to on the basis of one or two songs on here.) In 2010, three out of my top five albums were made by bands with a dance bent (Delphic, Two Door Cinema Club, then the Hundred in the Hands). From my perspective, Delphic came out and did well out of the gate in January 2010 because they offered an alternative to either straight dance or straight rock, melding a combination of the two that worked and gave respect to the two genres from which their new sound was forged. There are clearly some tracks on ‘Red Light’ that sound like they went through a similar thought process, and I’m guessing these are the ones that will prove more popular and have a better shot at mainstream success, or at least what passes for mainstream success in the indie world. Not completely a dance album or a rock album, ‘Red Light’ shows maturity in direction. Or at least the realisation that a dance album, when taking the right kind of cues from rock, can offer something great to people who might not otherwise check them out.
‘Red Light’, the second album from The Hundred in the Hands, is out today on Warp.