Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cut Off Your Hands - Hollow

01. You Should Do Better
02. Nausea
03. By Your Side
04. Hollowed Out
05. Oh Hell
06. All It Takes
07. Fooling No One
08. Down And Out
09. Buried

I saw Cut Off Your Hands live in 2007. They had just lost a gig on a children's TV show in their native New Zealand because of their name. When they were booked for the performance they'd been called Shaky Hands, but a threat of legal action by the Portland band Shaky Hands forced them to change it. Their somewhat sarcastic choice of a new moniker cost them a payday. It either didn't phase them or motivated them, because when they got on stage, they were nearly out of control. Vocalist Nick Johnston likes to get into the crowd, and his performing style amounts to a cardio workout.

They've grown up quite a bit since then, and though I've heard they're still wild on stage, the music they make in the studio has moved on from their post-punk roots. Hollow, their second LP, sounds much closer to the late-1980s/early-1990s work of British rock bands in the vein of Kitchens of Distinction, the House of Love, and the Trash Can Sinatras. There's a distinctive, clear-toned chime to the guitars, an airy drum sound, and the occasional backing vocal joining Johnston in unison-- it all adds up to something with the feel of that era. It has a dash of classic punk-informed NZ pop like the Bats, too, and should be right in the wheelhouse of anyone who pines for the long-ago days of classic college rock (or simply likes indie rock with a little sweep to it).

The band opens the album deceptively, with a shuffling drum beat similar to the one from Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz". When the rest of the band comes in, it turns to be a soft-hued and propulsive bit of swooning jangle pop, not some kind of rave-up. "Hollowed Out" offers an idea of what Echo and the Bunnymen might have sounded like in the mid-80s if Ian McCulloch had taken a less operatic approach to singing, while guitarist Michael Ramirez gets a nice showcase for his textured layering on "Down & Out". The band as a whole is at its finest on the slightly psychedelic "Nausea": Johnston's slightly flat singing on the verse sets up the key change and lighter tone of the catchy chorus surprisingly well.

"Nausea"'s easy-moving rhythm highlights one of the band's strengths-- they never sound plodding or like they're struggling to push the songs along. The airy recording aids the band's light touch, too-- the album glides by like it's on skates, its 34 minutes whipping by in an instant. The songs on Hollow are modest-- there's no closing epic, and the choruses are catchy but don't aim to be anthems-- but the band seems to have found its true strength here in a sound that's pretty far removed from the implied violence of its name...www.pitchfork.com

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