Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hard Love In Country: Hood “British Radars” (Acuarela Records)


The first time I heard Hood, via a borrowed Fluff 7”, I found their songs easy to like, but hard to love: the ingredients were there all right, but it was difficult to calibrate their unselfconsciously naive, organic musical imaginings against the more studied angst of some of their contemporaries. And that “good, but not great” vibe was not entirely erased when I first witnessed them live in a Bristol upstairs room, marvelling at their coyly disorganised brand of musical alchemy as they loosely attempted “Dimensions TBA”. At least, I think that was the song they were playing. You really couldn’t quite tell, which was almost beautiful in itself.

So, of all the bands that were ever my favourite band, Hood took the longest to grow on me. But grow they did, and not just on me but with me: they were the same age, and had many of the same reference points. They just had 10,000x more talent, and a perspective shaped by more rustic surroundings than I was afforded. This wasn’t some band from the city or the suburbs that had co-opted the countryside as a lyrical backdrop to hamfisted hippyish metaphors for prettiness, or as somewhere to do photoshoots, like the “fields and flowers and meadows” merchants that preceded them: to Hood, the countryside had its own character and personality, and they lamented being apart from it: “oh, how the city gets me down”, as they would howl on the brilliant “70s Manual Worker”.

And now I’ve another record for my collection. But "British Radars", in case you were wondering, is not a new Hood composition. They have not reformed, and their former members are too busy being in, or just being, all our current favourite acts: Bracken, the Declining Winter, A New Line (Related), Downpour etc. No, “British Radars” is long-coveted, a missing pearl, up there with other legendary ‘lost’ singles like "No Reason Why", “Stop Revolving”, "Beards", even "Day Into Day" or that Rosslyns test pressing. Now, a mere 21+ years after it was meant to come out, and on the very label that unaccountably omitted to release it at the time, amends are finally made as this edit of the classic "Cabled Linear Traction" track sees the light of day on a 7” EP.

The song hails from a time when Hood were still juggling noisy – if occasionally severely tuneful – slabs of teenage indie racket with scrunched-up half-acoustic homespun vignettes (“Biochemistry Revision Can Wait”, anyone?) and uber-experimental post-rock fragments: this track – hurrah! - was one of the former category. Vaguely halfway between "70s Manual Worker" and the later "The Field Is Cut" (maybe the song on which the wonders of ‘Hood future’ first fully blossomed), "British Radars" displays this phase of the band at their old-fashioned, lyrically aching, fuzzily muscular and utterly unpretentious indie-rocking peak.

Back in 1994, this was precisely the kind of song I longed, again and again, to hear. And the song that whatever band I was in would be ceaselessly trying (and failing) to compose. After the suspense of a swirling, beatless intro (hewn from slightly different ambient noise than the LP version) there’s an initial burst and burn of nervous energy and clanging chords and bashing drums, and little spells of slung fuzzy guitar that could almost be the brilliant Horowitz, and then all too-soon “British Radars” slows, near-collapses into neo-ambient lo-fi amplifier doodling (again, subtly different from the album mix), somehow limping on - bruised but not broken, bloodied but unbowed – until it does eventually peter out altogether, leaving behind the clearest traces of the same awesomeness as the later tune that would draw the curtain on their semi-shambling phase, the much-underloved and absolutely NOT useless Domino A-side, "Useless".

Awww, and the lyrics are still so gutwrenchingly sad: "I just realised / that you have been crying all your life..." yep, “British Radars” spoke to me – so entreatingly - it really did, and come to that it still does: this, and their tracks elsewhere from those times, like "Evening Return" and "Silo Crash" and "Your Sixth Sense" and “Norfolk” and, oh... what it was to be young and ensnared by rough-cut, super-vivid and completely compelling indie dramas.

Fairness commands that we should probably pledge a para or two to the other (gulp) five numbers on the EP. The pick (and other "proper" song here) is "Delusions Of Worthlessness": although it would later find more, er, hi-fidelity expression on their full Slumberland bow “Silent '88", for us this version is superior, sounding even more plaintive, more plangent, more desperate (right down to its trickling feedback denouement). When they sing, "your work was rediscovered / after you died", it seems particularly apposite to a lost 45 from a great band, released over a decade after they went their separate ways.

Three more of the tracks had ended up in one form or another on Hood compilations (“Structured Disasters” and/or “Singles Compiled”), namely the off-wall hum of “Experiments In Silence”, the touching mini-strum “Flood History” (aka “Create!”) and the serene “Fears Grow”, which introduces an intriguing early example of crunching electronic beats atop the misty drift of a spoken word vocal. The remaining track is absolutely brand new, even to obsessive completist anorak Hood aficionados like ourselves: the scuffed balladry of “Walking Mindless“ yields nothing too remarkable, but still feels like uncovering long-buried treasure (all we need now is a deluxe re-issue of “Field Report (a) (i) An Overcast Sky”, and we’ll be laughing).

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This one squeezed through the letterbox only days after we finally located a copy of Hood's Drop Beat remixes 12" on Berwick Street, so we've been in absolute clover this week.

And with its monochrome sleeve of pylons, chimneys, fields and sky this entrancing slice of vinyl can now sit snugly, as God always intended it, alongside other monochrome Hood 7” sleeves: the bleak shrubbery & toppling telegraph pole of Lee Faust's Million Piece Orchestra and the disused post-mill of Opening Into Enclosure and the cooling towers of A Harbour Of Thoughts… and alongside countless snatched memories of a younger Hood soundtracking a younger me through stumbles and smiles and first girlfriends and first jobs and first incarnations of this very fanzine. It feels like we’ve fallen for this song a hundred times, and now we’re falling for it again daily. Hard to love? I never heard such nonsense.