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.on songs such as ‘Simple’; violent, atonal and teasing, it allows its disparate stems of boorish, nosing bass and floating, swift-chopping guitar to coalesce into an almost-tune that briefly rouses before being snatched away and swept under a carpet of twitching sound.
Jane’s Addiction get a nod on ‘Heave’, which wobbles like Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’ (or Killing Joke’s ‘Eighties’ if you prefer) while a Perry Farrell-like scream cuts through the jabbing alt-rock sounds. It sounds great, but it’s more the trappings of greatness being imitated and reproduced here than the substance and truth of real brilliance.
‘Bad Apple’ gives us our Depeche Moment, gentle electronica that pleases on an instantly nostalgic level – you’ll half-remember every sound used here from the crystal-cut keys to the popping bass and choral effects. Again, superficially impressive, but not engaging on any more elemental level. There’s some love for Chromatics on ‘G.I.D’ – “You are the one, the one I want/And I don’t care how it’s done” over splashes of Youth Lagoon style wooziness, “You looked at me in the middle of the classroom” naivety over tremulous tropicalia.
It’s very hard to understand where the identity of the band will finally settle when it alters its mask so numerously and swiftly across these ten disparate tracks. The common ground they share is that they are, within themselves, adventurous, sonically delicious, texturally interesting– ‘New To It’ pools, collapses and reforms in different shapes, balancing and teetering – but it’s like a snapshot of a moving image. There’s no real clue to meaning or content. Perhaps there is none? Or is the artistry all in the delivery? Maybe there’s no further intent to be inferred than the intention to replicate, repeat, stir those tender emotions of the past and be pleased enough with that.
If that is the case then Gauntlet Hair have achieved what they aimed for with style and aplomb. Yet if they hope to be a band to fall in love with, a band that means something more to the listener than a cool tune, then they’re going to need to develop a beating heart under all that shiny, pretty skin.