, October 24th, 2011 06:09
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.
Denver, Colorado duo Gauntlet Hair, much lauded last year for their singles 'Out, Don't' and 'I Was Thinking', fall firmly into the latter category. While they borrow elements from certain higher-profile contemporaries, they have thrown them together in such a way that the results sound quite unlike anything else that's gone before; sure, you'll hear echoes of Animal Collective in vocalist Andy R's ecstatic whoops and glassy post-punk guitars, or Sleigh Bells in Craig Nice's booming R&B club drums, but the nine tracks that make up this eponymous debut all hinge on a vision that is all the band's own. It's a noise that will either have you blasting it repeatedly at neighbour-bothering volume or running for the hills with your hands over your ears.
Me? I like it. There's no use denying Gauntlet Hair is a challenging listen, but its effects are - quite literally - stunning; everything here is treated, manipulated or bathed in so much reverb that the listener might come away feeling like they have been clubbed around the head. Buried somewhere underneath the distortion is a pop sensibility that just about manages to shine through, but the focus here is on tone and texture. Guitar and vocals are looped and delayed, stretched and repeated until the riffs ricochet like beams of light in a hall of mirrors and the lyrics warp into a kind of blurred call-and-response. Every snare hit triggers a landslide of electronically echoed beats; and the cavernous, trunk-rattling bass throbs menacingly, less a melodic or rhythmic guide than a bowel-loosening KLF-style exercise in sonic terrorism.
Of course, it's easy to see why many people will hate this album. It is, at heart, a punk rock record, and punk was always meant to be divisive. Admittedly, there isn't much in the way of variety between the tracks – 'Top Bunk' is perhaps the most fully-realised exploration of the band's sound, but differences in tempo, pitch and structure are so minimal the songs tend to overlap - but then one could level the same accusation at, say, the Beach Boys; if anything, there's something admirable about the way the pair refuse to deviate even slightly from their own formula. Okay, so it won't be most people's cup of tea, but Gauntlet Hair is a brave and defiantly individual effort. Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, it's a record that will provoke a reaction, and that means they win either way.