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"Gauntlet Hair"

Gauntlet Hair – Gauntlet Hair
21 October 2011, 08:57 Written by Phil Gwyn

As is now commonly accepted, the official unit of hipster credibility is the number of times a certain song has been posted by Pitchfork during any given year, and by using this well established, unquestionably official criteria we can only come to the conclusion that Gauntlet Hair’s ‘I Was Thinking…’ was officially the most credible hipster tune of 2010, having been posted by them an indoctrination-like 5 times; heights of propaganda that even Goebbels would have been repulsed by.

But there was good reason for their determination to get ‘I Was Thinking…’ into every internet connection that stumbled across their website; it’s a masterpiece, a perfectly weighted toss up between accessibility and creativity. It took one experimental personality, perfected it, and ended up being one of the songs of the year. The main (and possibly only) major problem with debut album Gauntlet Hair, then, is that the experimental personality that they perfected has stalled, and in their desperation to move somewhere new, they’ve simply built up turgid layers of reverb until everything is so cluttered, everything so big, that nothing seems to have any weight at all.

The one redeeming feature of this approach is that they’ve truly perfected this single idea, and so opener ‘Keep Time’ has a brilliantly awkward, stuttering appeal, but it’s second track ‘Top Bunk’ that surpasses even ‘I Was Thinking…’. It’s a rare example of originality and possesses by far the biggest (or closest thing to a) chorus on the album. But by the end of ‘Top Bunk’, though, Gauntlet Hair have exposed their most lucid and arousing way of expressing their one idea. This formula, spread liberally over an entire album, produces the effect of being drowned rather than simply drenched in reverb, as their thick, suffocating sound eventually exposes itself as being a conclusion of creative asphyxiation.

It’s not simply a forgivable case of having revealed their cards too early, though; the second half of Gauntlet Hair just sounds bloated and indigestible to such a point that you’ll find it tough to generate any motivation to return to it. By the time that ‘Overkill’ arrives, its overblown drums just sound portentous, and although Mr Gauntlet Hair continues to warble in the quite incoherent manner that was endearing perhaps 20 minutes earlier, by now it just seems tired. They also demonstrate a deliberate obtuseness, as demonstrated on ‘That’s Your Call’ which teases with a brain-gouging vocal hook, before the song is predictably plunged into reverb, drums, cymbals, and most other noise that they could find in the studio to obscure any beautiful simplicity. Battles do that brilliantly always, Gauntlet Hair only occasionally.

Unfortunately, that ends up being Gauntlet Hair’s definition; interesting song-writing obscured in the most contrived way by a tiring idea. Most great albums are characterised by a definite identity, but Gauntlet Hair’s is too obvious and forced, rather than being a subtle continuity that runs throughout the work. So instead of being a great asset, their paralysed identity has ended up being the one reason why they haven’t made the potentially great album that they must have the ability to make.

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