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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Hood creeping out of the shadows


Special to The Japan Times

Almost 15 years after deciding to make music under the mysterious sounding moniker Hood, brothers Chris and Richard Adams have released the widely appreciated "Outside Closer," their ninth album overall and fourth for Domino, perhaps the hippest U.K. label at the moment. Given the fickleness of the music business in general and the pathologically distracted character of the British pop-music industry in particular, it seems a miracle that Hood has survived this long without emerging from the shadows. Then again, no one has ever been able to pigeonhole their sound so they've at least been free to do what they want without disappointing anyone but themselves.

News photo
Hood

"The press?" Chris Adams says via his manager's cell phone. "Nobody pays attention to us in England. The culture there is one or two albums and then you disappear. I guess you could say we managed to weather the storm, but we've never gotten any notice from the music press, unless you count the underground press."

Somebody must be paying attention, though. By his own admission, "Outside Closer" has garnered a much better and bigger response than Adams expected, the main evidence being that Hood is presently in the middle of the longest tour of its career. As we talk, the group is unloading equipment for a concert in Hamburg. They're finishing up an extensive European tour after playing throughout the U.S. (where they had their tour money stolen in Portland) and will soon come to Japan, which they've never visited before.

Adams is at a loss to explain the group's relative success and seems reluctant to even acknowledge it. He's well-practiced at self-deprecation and the band's Web site is an exercise in defeatist attitude. "No one seems to be able to come up with a reason for the band's existence," goes the answer to one FAQ. "Small-town boredom is the usual reason given."

Starting with what Adams describes as "scratchy, lo-fi pop," the brothers' initial recordings had the offhand quality of American do-it-yourself groups like Pavement and Guided by Voices, though Hood's influences were closer to home: Talk Talk, My Bloody Valentine and Bark Psychosis.

"We're from a really small town in the north of England called Wetherby," Adams explains. "There wasn't much going on, so when we were old enough we'd go over to Leeds to see music events. I also did a lot of record swapping. I had pen pals with whom I'd trade tapes and stuff. It's the only way I got to hear a lot of different music."

But while Adams is happy to admit to influences, he has no idea how those influences made themselves felt in his music. Neither brother has ever had any musical training. "Everything started the moment we bought a guitar and a four-track," he says. "And almost as soon as we started recording we were releasing things on really small labels." The quality was erratic, and adherence to any sort of style is impossible to discern. The title of the band's 1996 singles compilation is "Structured Disasters."

"Our songs follow their own rules," Adams says. "There's a lot of melody in what we do, but we never we pay conscious attention to song structure. It comes out of the pacing. You just hear something in the development that surprises you and then you go off from there at different angles."

In the late 1990s, Hood's songs became longer, pastoral, instrumental, thus drawing comparisons to Britain's burgeoning post-rock movement, led by the like of Mogwai. However, it wasn't until the brothers made electronica the central element of their music that Hood's sound became identifiable, though Adams says he has a love-hate relationship with technology.

"Sometimes, the equipment takes you in directions you don't really want to go," he says. "The point is to not let it run away with itself. That sort of thing happens when you don't think about the particular piece of music, you're just thinking about manipulating the equipment. It can be liberating, but you have to start with a good idea before you start playing with machines."

Liberation came on their previous album, "Cold House" (2001), which was not only built on electronica, but included a genuine hip-hop component with the participation on three songs of the San Francisco rap collective cLOUDDEAD.

"I was listening to loads of hip-hop at the time," Adams says, "and it just sort of found its way into the music. I was a bit worried that people would think it was contrived, but what we did was just throw hip-hop samples at the songs just to see what would stick. Actually, when you listen back to it, you can get a pretty good idea of what we were listening to at the time."

Despite these elements, Hood will never be mistaken for a dance band, and Adams admits to having little interest in contemporary dance music ("though I'm really enjoying the U.K. grime scene at the moment"); which isn't to say Hood isn't rhythmically compelling. Their music has a nodding insistence that develops out of layers of instruments and Adams' quiet, unassuming vocals, which are carried by sturdy, well-defined melodies. Each song starts off strong and actually builds into something monumental, which is surprising considering how gentle the music can be.

The electronics, in fact, are noticeable only by inference. "Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive," from the new album, is built on a hypnotic acoustic-guitar pattern that is looped so delicately that it doesn't sound looped at all. "There are a lot of acoustic guitars on the record," Adams says. "We were trying to move the focus back to real instruments, trying to be more subtle with the electronics. I think we were getting jaded, fooling around with electronic sounds all the time. 'Cold House' was overtly electronic and perhaps more purposely futuristic sounding. This album has a more rounded sound, which means there's more to really listen to. People give it more time."

As far as who those people are, Adams can only guess. Since Hood has never had an audience in mind, he has no idea what kind of people buy his records. He even speculates that perhaps the reason Hood's concerts are being attended as well as they are has less to do with the new album than with the fact that the group is on Domino, the home of such bands-of-the-moment as Franz Ferdinand and Clinic, but he can't be sure.

"We don't really listen to the kinds of bands we tend to get lumped in with," he says. "During this tour we keep running into people who corresponded with us, like, 10 years ago, and it's great. I'm always amazed to meet people who are actually interested in what we're doing."

Hood: April 24, 6 p.m., Shibuya O-Nest, Tokyo (03) 3462-4420; April 26, 6:30 p.m., Metro Kyoto (075) 752-4765; April 27, 7 p.m., 2nd Line, Osaka (06) 6453-1985; April 28, 7 p.m., Shibuya O-Nest. All tickets 3,000 yen in advance.


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