Release Date: Oct 18, 2011
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock
Artsy, reverb-damaged experimental poppers with negligible lyrics aren't exactly rare these days. Whether chillwave or lo-fi, post-dubstep or just plain unclassifiable, many of our decade's most intriguing young voices are often less than wholly articulate. Even when you can make out the lyrics, as Pitchfork's Brian Howe observed recently, they're often cryptic or generic-- both in big-tent indie rock and on the U.S.
If we were [a]Gauntlet Hair[/a], we’d be pretty sick of people comparing us to [a]Animal Collective[/a] by now. Does every new, interesting band really have to suffer that fate? Sure, GH singer Andy R sounds a touch like Avey Tare (then again, stick that much reverb on a vocal and so might Tom Waits), but it’s pretty obvious that this blogtastic Denver duo are way more in thrall to the West Coast than the East; Abe Vigoda, HEALTH and No Age’s noise-pop inform the best parts of this fine debut LP, rendering it a swirling headfuck of manic energy mixed with blissed-out melody. Also, any band that tells Pitchfork to “suck our medieval, hairy, wizard dicks” is more than alright by us.[i]Rob Webb[/i] .
Few records are as tied to geology as Gauntlet Hair’s self-titled debut. Andy R and Craig Nice relocated from Chicago to Denver while writing what would become Gauntlet Hair, which certainly could not have hurt their ability to create the mountain-sized hooks and cavernous echoes laid bare on their songs. That kind of immersive study is especially necessary when you’re trying to emerge from the shadows (or stalactites) of last year’s unimpeachably face-melting “I Was Thinking...” The duo’s first single featured everything necessary to overcome the messy terrain of such treble-heavy production—assertive-yet-spacious guitar chords and mountaintop yodels held down by bedrock percussion.
There are plenty of bands trading in ‘80s nostalgia these days, and really it’s kind of a bummer. A lot of those bands deal in shimmer and treble and, like the swaths of tinny ‘80s music they are borrowing from, they forget all about the low-end. Maybe it’s all just to be different, to take something we all thought seriously uncool (even when it was happening) and refashion it to become, well, fashionable.
On their self-titled debut following a variety of singles, Gauntlet Hair, aka the duo of guitarist/singer Andy R. and drummer/sampler Craig Nice, seem to specialize in the kind of catchall that's made whatever can be termed indie rock in the early 2010s such a catchall. Shoegaze and post-punk guitars, older electronic rhythms repurposed, lots and lots of reverb on the singing -- it's not so much following in the vein of one particular artist as a large number of them, reworked and recombined.
There has been a sense of thrilling secrecy surrounding Gauntlet Hair. Little was known of the Colorado duo, made up of Andy R. and Craig Nice, even as each of their sporadic single releases garnered Internet hype. Their noisy, brash percussion charged rock received feverish praise, even landing them record deals for a run of limited 7?s.
Despite having one of the daftest band names to crop up in quite some time, Gauntlet Hair - it's apparently an in-joke referring to the mop sitting atop blues guitarist Johnny Winter's head - have ascended to their current status at quite the pace. It was around this time last year that 'Out, Now...' and 'I Was Thinking...' were making waves on the likes of 6 Music, threatening to launch Andy R and Craig Nice into the stratosphere and off planet Earth before they'd even get a chance to make an album. So now the self-titled debut is here, how does it hold up? Well, for starters, those two songs aren't here.
If ranked for recording ingenuity alone, then Gauntlet Hair have concocted one stimulating, if possibly deafening, experience that should be placed among the top tier of 2011’s noisemakers. Coming from the burgeoning Denver, Colorado scene, their debut release responds with a remote sense of bewilderment, which absorbs layer upon layer of sonic textures and batters it until creating some odd form of organized chaos. These days, their awakening is a common tale – a duo of artists who, seemingly out of nowhere, broke through a killer tune with the expectation of expanding it for an eager blogosphere to justify its early reputation.
The phrase "love it or hate it" used to mean something quite different. Nowadays, the "love it" part more often than not seems like some kind of excuse or desperate attempt at validation, referring to some kind of guilty pleasure and therefore implying acceptance of a lack of any real talent. Call it, if you will, "the Louis Walsh effect". The old meaning was much more exciting; an advance warning - a compliment, almost - applied to the likes of Tom Waits or Bjork, that the listener was about to hear something original and potentially alienating.
There are moments—most notably during “Mop It Up”—where the Denver duo Gauntlet Hair comes off like a fuzzed-out, wall-of-sound, grunge-y shoegaze version of Givers without Tiffany Lamson. Even as Gauntlet Hair’s songs are fast-paced, uptempo and skyward-bound, they are sleepy, bogged down by their own blanket of reverb. The band’s proclivities to upbeat guitar licks and hazy echoing cacophony are constantly in tension in Gauntlet Hair’s sound, part foggy and part lucidly indie.The album’s single, “Top Bunk,” measures Andy R.’s chirpy guitar riffs and hoarsely Cobainish singing against the weight of Craig Nice’s kick drum and a whole soundboard of audio effects that create a clangorous din.