Release Date: Jul 16, 2013
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
A collage of strange, variously effected keyboards, sharp guitar hooks, freewheelin’ bass and some minimalistic drums, Stills, on paper, is a mess of instrumental overhaul. Whatever. The result is intuitive, cohesive and uniquely dreary. Each song seems to follow its own instinct, reaching odd but necessary, sensible plains.
Denver’s fantastically monikered Gauntlet Hair (apparently named in honour of legendary blues fellow Johnny Winter’s flowing barnet) have found a bit of character since their self-titled debut came out in 2011. Where Andy Rauworth and Craig Nice’s first effort was a vaguely pleasing but slightly dull tilt at Foals-like guitar algorithms, ‘Stills’ cuts out the needless meandering and instead digs up prime nuggets of psych-garage and short, sharp shocks of shoegaze after a poke from a cattle prod. It’s still as hazy as a heat shimmer, but combines all the best things about music: you know, an uncanny impression of The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Jim Reid from singer Andy, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ synths on ‘Human Nature’, stiff Talking Heads funk on ‘Heave’, and pitchy My Bloody Valentine-style disorientation on ‘GID’.
For Stills, the Chicago by way of Colorado duo Gauntlet Hair traveled to Portland, Oregon to record with Jacob Portrait (Unknown Mortal Orchestra). Inspired by the grey weather of the winter and by alternative rock from their teen years, the songs by singer/guitarist Andy R. and drummer Craig Nice continue to be gloomy, but manage to avoid the pits of goth and industrial by incorporating pop hooks worthy of a John Hughes soundtrack.
Though it was released less than two years ago, Gauntlet Hair’s self-debut album already feels like a time capsule. It’s a snapshot of a moment when seemingly every emergent indie act was trying to elbow their way into Animal Collective's campfire circle by reverbing their voices into oblivion, duct-taping their guitar pedals down to achieve infinite delay, and locking their rhythms into an epileptic stutter. But as prevalent as that messthetic was, it’s one that has served as a springboard into myriad directions: Doldrums’ recent Lesser Evil pumped it up to super-club size; Braids’ upcoming Flourish // Perish chisels it into minimalist electro-prog.
If David Lynch wasn't busy making his own music, he could probably be a member of Gauntlet Hair. Since their high school days, the Denver-based duo of Andy Rauworth and Craig Nice has been marrying suffocating, Animal Collective-style psychedelia with irreverent, Americana-steeped noise rock. On its surface, the band's music is as benign as any lo-fi suburban punk-pop, but like a Lynchian odyssey, digging below the veneer of normalcy reveals a whole lot of strange goings-on: dissonant guitars, atonal harmonies, unpredictable key changes, rambling interludes, and a dark, disquieting strain of surrealism bubbling up at irregular intervals.
Stills is a record concerned with interpersonal relationships. Given just how much of Gauntlet Hair’s sophomore album spends angsting about significant others, it’s not hard to imagine the Denver duo of Craig Nice and Andy Rauworth standing on either side of High Fidelity‘s John Cusack, complaining loudly about Captain Beefheart nerds. Sonically, Gauntlet Hair’s self-titled debut record was more accessible than Stills.
The hissing feedback, the cratering bass, the seething vocals, the harsh textures, all these elements suggest that electro-noise duo Gauntlet Hair is in its comfort zone working with a disorienting, unnerving aesthetic on its sophomore full-length, Stills. Namechecking the likes of White Zombie and Marilyn Manson as influences for Stills, Gauntlet Hair puts a darker, more primal inflection on the intuitive melodies that were deeply embedded in the fuzzed out distortion of the group’s earlier work this time out. Yet, as far as Gauntlet Hair tries to push ahead with a more extreme approach on this go around, there’s something about Stills that makes it feel like the twosome is hedging its bets, often ending up neither here nor there by splitting the difference between giving full expression to its dark side and wading into the subconscious pop instincts buried beneath the sound and fury.
Noise-pop duo Gauntlet Hair (Andy R and Craig Nice) released their debut (eponymous) album in 2011 and received considerable praise for their efforts; now, some two years later the notoriously ‘difficult second album’ is upon us. Stills marks a change of direction for the band; whereas Gauntlet Hair focused on post-punk guitars and ‘80s electronic rhythms, the new offering tends to create mayhem with every turn, often appearing to lack direction and cohesion as well as genre categorisation in the process. Human Nature opens the album and contradicts the overall feel of the album.
With a debut that was awash with blissful harmonics, smothered vocals and flickering guitars, Denver noise-poppers Gauntlet Hair have never shied away from mining the same deep well of influences as their contemporaries. However, unlike their peers, they've often lost sight of the melodious and rhythmic elements of their sound, disfiguring it under a flood of reverb - a creative choice which divided opinion, leaving what was an ostensibly talented band to serve as 2011's indie also-rans. For their follow-up, Stills, Craig Nice and Andy R have moved away from their native city, recording in the depths of a overcast Portland winter.
On their sophomore album, Gauntlet Hair have cleaned up their act. You can imagine the Denver duo of Andy Rauworth and Craig Fleischman patching up the holes in their jeans, pulling a comb through their mops - you know, growing up. But what made the band so charming - their indiscernible vocals, the prickly, overbearing guitars, the lo-fi grittiness of it all - has been lost in the makeover.
If you’re looking for something to cool you down in this summer heat, look no further. From opener ‘Human Nature’, there’s something resolutely cold about Gauntlet Hair’s second album, ‘Stills’. It’s filled with cool sounds, and makes for an interesting listen, but it’s not engaging. It leaves the listener unfeeling, untouched.‘Spew’, following the opener, is slightly livelier, showing off the pair’s newer, industrial edge.
Gauntlet Hair, the Denver-based noise pop duo consisting of Craig Nice and Andy Rauworth, finds itself asking an inevitable question on its new album: What genre are we? Stills, the follow-up to the pair’s self-titled debut album, explores a variety of sounds and textures that could be found under the “noise pop” umbrella. At the same time, the record finds the group stepping outside predetermined genre lines and stretching the limits of pop to explore more abrasive styles like industrial and grunge. When done properly, in a consistent manner throughout the album, experimentation is a great tool.
The moody Bunnymen blast of ‘Human Nature’ drawls, curl-lipped from the speakers, the opening track of Chicago-born, Denver-based Gauntlet Hair’s second record Stills, and we know in a frantic drumblast over which section of their record collection the duo of Craig Nice and Andy Rauworth were hunched when conceptualizing this retro retread of darkpop glories of the dim, distant and recent past. Happily, as you nod and shrug, you may be won over by the strength of melody and ability to conjure an atmosphere in an instant that these childhood friends share. There are snips and snatches of Public Image Ltd.