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Thursday, September 6, 2012

EP Review: Hopewell - Another Music

This is one of the best releases of the year. Hopewell have been around since the mid 90’s, and they’ve gone through different incarnations and different stages in their career musically. I remember when they first came out, they were sort of a psychedelic shoegaze band. I caught one of their shows years later, and they had a hard hitting drummer and sounded like a heavier Spiritualized. With this newest release- Another Music, they collaborated with Ride’s singer/songwriter Mark Gardener for a cover of Brian Eno’s “A Needle in the Camel’s Eye”. They’ve also made the most hyper-rhythmic, funky record of their career, like The Talking Heads if Jeff Buckley were singing. There’s a lot of percussion, surprising compositional changes and deep hypnotic moods. 

The opening track is the Eno cover, which is spot on perfect compared to the original. Some bands will cover a song completely different, within their own interpretation but Hopewell pays tribute to Eno by knocking the song out with identical production quality, the same tempo, even the drum effect is as close as anyone could get. Speaking as a Ride fan, Mark Gardener’s voice isn’t exactly what I expected. He does not sound like the whispering droney singer he was in Ride, but a flawless impression of Brian Eno’s vocal.  “The King and the Canary” moves along with the 60’s/70’s vibe, reminiscent of The Kinks, bouncing from part to part with a falsetto vocal Ray Davies would raise an eyebrow to. This is more of what’s to be expected from the band, mixing trippy sound effects and obscure guitar pedals. I don’t know what you’d call this, a cross between sci-fi rock and brit-pop with a twist of psychedelia hanging over the mix. If Nigel Godrich produced this song, I don’t think it would have sounded much different. 

“This is This” is where the EP takes off. Heavy percussion tracks shake the listener into a trance, just before the old signature Hopewell sound comes back. Jason Russo’s vocals are crisp and vibrant as ever, while the band sounds like they’ve discovered a fresh direction sonically. There is no filler, as the EP storms through each song with a higher energy than before and a chanting chorus (“This is happening!”), anthemic in its humble song title. 

“Over the Mountain” continues with this theme or idea that the drums should be as important and loud as the lead vocals. This is the kind of music you can delve into the lyrics and melodies, or you can play in the background like the kraut-rock bands of the 70’s. I assume that groups like Can or Amon Düül were influences during the making of these recordings. The guitars also have that heavily delayed Talking Heads vibe to go with the drums. The appearance of an abstract horn section is featured as well. The more you listen to this EP, the more it seems the band has deconstructed their songwriting process, devoid of the usual verse - chorus structure, replacing it with repetitive drum grooves and backwards guitar squeals. If you were to take apart one of their songs, and reconstruct it without any predictability, it would sound like this. The track is noted as the Tarbox version, Dave Fridmann’s recording studio, and that’s just what Dave Fridmann is known for doing. He has his own methods of engineering that result in a similar fashion to a remix, but does not sound synthetic or computerized. This is, Fridmann’s trademark sound, and it blends so beautifully well with the band's personalities.

The final track is entitled- “The Six Knowables”. It begins like an Alice Coltrane or Eric Dolphy record with atonal horn arrangements that fall into place with the drums. This is similar to Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic music, but blends in and out of a rock and roll beat while techno noises pan left to right. It’s the sound of an accomplished band that’s done so much, they’re striving for new ground to explore. 

For a five song EP, Another Music sure as hell impresses the listener, and it’s not just ear candy to bug out to, the whole EP is well designed from start to finish to inspire with innovative techniques not often used by a rock band. Some might compare this to Radiohead, but Hopewell have their own thing and obviously moving in their own direction organically. They may even surprise their predecessors, perhaps Mark Gardener will conjure up the long-awaited Ride reunion.

The members of Hopewell are:

Jason Russo, Tyson Lewis, Rich Meyer, Lyndon Roeller, Jay Green


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