House of Hats Compilation
4-piece band deliver gorgeous harmonies, sweet dreamy music, that is irresistible.
Availability: E.P. is available via http://houseofhatsmusic.bandcamp.com/
It is hard to rise to the top of the pool, of an ever-expanding musical swarm…
not that the increase in talent is a bad thing. A implied false equivalency in people’s attitudes to a more is better ideal, is often not dispelled. Music goes through cyclical spells of creative alchemy. To my mind 1994 was the last time, such a wealth of staggering music was on offer. As it is easier now to record music cheaply and simply, often from the comfort of your own bedroom, people from all corners, are declaring their intentions known. A lot of times, the act or band are a facsimile of their idols and influences; many lacking either lyrical and musical innovation, vocal light speed, or market perspicacity. The heart grows heavy, the mind casts shadows, and belief runs dry. I have been smiling a little more as of late; as it seems that there is a consistent core of credible and incredible acts, breaking through. I have been privileged to review a lot of stunning new acts over the last few weeks, everything from metal, to soul, through to jazz, and have been amazed at the quality and convivial ambition of each of them. Today is no exception.
With one of the most distinctive and evocative names in the business, House of Hats are a name to be excited by, for a number of different reasons. The group are based in Brighton, and have been playing together for the past 2 years. Their sound has been described as a conglomeration of Crosby, Stills, Nah and Young as well as Fleetwood Mac. They share the former’s gorgeous harmonies and possess a similarly heavyweight cache of impressive and memorable songs. Like Fleetwood Mac they contain siblings- Alex and Rob; together with Noddy and James. They posses 3 dapper and fine looking gents, and one gorgeous and alluring woman; but expect no Mac-style tempestuousness, drug-fuelled histrionics and sexual upheaval. The band are focused and tight knit close friends, and if they are to achieve an album as genre-breaking as ‘Rumours’, it will be down to their talents and quality, with no close scrutiny and dissection of the song’s origins and the member’s demyelination. The gang are influences by modern paragons such as Bon Iver and Dry The River, as well as the established old guard of the folk genre: Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Johnny Cash.
The likes of Zoe Ball and Maverick Magazine have extolled the virtues of the band’s unique blend of soothing, lilac-scented vocal harmonies and folk aesthetic. The E.P.’s lead-off track is ‘Never Lost’. It is a complication-free, beautiful birth, delivered as it is with gloriously gentle and evocative acoustic strings. There are early hints of Young and Iver in the intro., which never feels subordinate or disingenuous; it is reassuring and a statement of intent. There is already a definite mood set, and the scene is nimbly instigated: calm streams, sunshine smiles and tall grass in empty fields. The inter-gender vocal melt that proceeds it is equally calming and tender. The lyrics are imbued by their fashion choices: neutral colours, mo0desty, but always eye catching and thought-provoking : “The tenderness of home” and “The streets I used to roam”, are picturesque (“The sky is black as coal” is particularly defined) and aching sentiments, delivered with a whispered evocation. The guitar sound, and in a way, the vocal construct and melody has common ground with Kings of Convenience, yet posses a richer flavour and are more captivating. If one is hunting for a companion piece to this song, I would advise The Cinematic Orchetra’s ‘To Build a Home’. That song manifests an unadulterated charm and child-like innocence, as well as a credence concerning the safety and familiarity of home. The vocals swoon and glide across the blue sky and caress your soul. The conscientious gentility and descriptive scenes transcend your mood, and makes you close your eyes and picture all of the things that the band sing of. There are plural possessive nouns, vivid recollections and poetic longing: (“The air as still as stone”) It is a very definitive folk number that fans of Fleetwood Mac’s more langouresness numbers will adore, and its warm heart will find you at your best; calm and at peace with the world. Just before the 3:00 mark there is a sound of harmonica as the chorus is delivered once more. The mood is slightly more intense, as there is an increase in passion and urgency. The message overall is, that however far they are from home, House of Hats will never be lost; the memories stay with them and that will never change. It is one of the most harmonious and spellbinding tracks on the E.P. and a brilliant opening salvo.
Like The Beatles track of the same name, ‘Across The Universe’s intro manifests a similar transient mystique. It shimmers with beauty and its acoustic propagation trickles dlictaerly, its riparian delights flow to and forth before entering the sea. The vocal is by Noddy and glistens magnificently. Her soft caress and otherworldly vocal is reminiscent of Eva Cassidy and is pure and crystalline. It pervades a sense of comfort and stability to its sound as well as its lyrical message. “Seasons may change/But still you always remain” is an early example of the potency of a simple and well delivered message. The vocal elongates, floats and purrs feline, seducing and quivering. At one point the vocal sounds like Kate Bush in her upper reaches, and possesses an impressive range and cupboard of emotional delight throughout the song. The guitar punctuates the mood and has a loyal folk aesthete to it, but within the chorus does have flecks of a more introverted version of psychedelia and ’60s experimentation. The song does not break too far from the theme of longing and wanting what is familiar and reliable. Lyrics such as: “As you’re not nearer/Every darkness is clearer”, convey an air of loneliness and wistfulness. Our heroine longs for the day where she can cross the universe and redress her unbalanced heart that haunts and pulls her down. The song is superbly tight and concentrated, and gets its message out in just over 2:30. The vocal is the type that can send shivers down the hardiest and most unmoving of people, and the Cassidy parable is especially prescient. I am confident the song will be remembered in similarly revered tones and covered extensively by artists from many genres. It is an exceptional performance and to my mind is the strongest song of the E.P. Its universality and romanticism will strike a chord with everyone and is the kind of song one can be cheered by when it is wet, and sing along to when the sun shines.
With its modulating arpeggio, Sewing Machine caresses and intrigues in equal measures within the intro. The vocal duties are once more shared and enter with quite a burst and possesses more of an energy and country-tinge. The folk elements are still predominant, but there are sadder touches here and there. One can sense the spirit of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as well as Bon Iver in this haunted little number. The themes of the songs range from regret (“Missed out opportunities”) to optimism (“Hope is always close to me”) to lost opportunity (“Somebody stole my sewing machine”). The vocal harmony is brilliant and when they combine at 2:20 and rise into the heavens the effect is amazing. The two leads support and link up perfectly, giving the song particular authenticity. It seems like a lover’s call; a kind of duet that will put you in mind of a romantic movie, the heroine and hero divided by time, geography and circumstance, calling to one another from across the divide. The musical backing is effectively studied and concise. Piano lilts pop up to elevate sentiments, and the guitar varies in pace and signature, giving a sense of movement and storytelling to the track, and also contextualises the lyrics brilliantly. The song has a admirable constancy to it, and mixes metaphor and the literal with great aplomb. Whilst many contemporary acts may tell a similar tale with a needless edge of licentious cynicism, House of Hats are restrained and mature, thus meaning there are no wasted words or breathes. There is quite a modern sound to the track as a whole. Whilst it has a lot in common with the classic folk of the ’60s and ’70s, I was reminded of Dry the River and Laura Marling; the celestial rise that arrives just before 4:00 sounds, however like nothing else. It is the longest track of the quartet, but does not feel forced and plodding.
Conversely, the shortest track completes the journey. I am particularly fond of the band’s handy knack of nailing titles. The brilliantly-titled ‘King of the Average Pace’ hits you immediately. There is no mood lighting or build-up, the song has no time to spare! The harmony again has touches of Crosby’ in its fullness, with the entire group joined and mobilised to uplifting effect. Perhaps it isn’t world-weariness, but maybe taking things at your own speed is the mission statement for the track. In the band’s own words: “Give me time to find my place/I am the King of the Average Pace”. The mood of the song is more upbeat and revitalised. I was thinking that the track would work brilliantly well on a full album. It is quite the tease in its flirtation. I would have happily heard about 3 more minutes of the track, but as the group say: “Give me patience and show my grace”. They have earned and expect to be left to do things at their pace. It is an invigorating number and ends the E.P. with virulent satiation. That said, it provides a tempting glimpse at what could be on the album. The band have shown quite a range of sounds and emotions over 4 tracks.
I was incredibly satisfied and won over by The House of Hats. I have been slightly disheartened by the sect of musicians purporting themselves to be ‘folk’ or ‘acoustic pop’. It is a section of the market that is vastly subscribed and variable when it comes to quality. It is down to the band’s fantastic vocals, concision, grace and talent that means they not only bring a fresh dynamic to a crowded market, but are also pleasingly familiar at the same time. They have a great range of influences and adopt a little one of each, without ever being too heavy handed or in danger of pastiche. They have their own unique style and incorporate their idols seamlessly. The track order and weighting works very well. It is quite shrewd to end the E.P. with the shortest track as it leaves you wanting a lot more, and the numbers are arranged with precision, that means the emotional balance and overall effect is greater than if they had ordered the listing any other way. The entire band are brilliant and incredibly passionate, precise and talented, and for a relatively new band, they have an incredible confidence and maturity to them. It is the vocals and the overall vocal effect that struck the biggest chord with me. When harmonising or isolated, the vocals are gripping and striking and they feel a lot more exciting and porteneuous than their peers. The band are tight and you can feel the closeness of the members; everything and everyone are in perfect time, and they have a great respect for each other and that shines through. They can also balance a fun mood with a more emotional sound, but they never allow themselves to become maudlin or overwhelmed.
Their debut album is released this Spring, and will be interesting to see what direction they take. Whether they are going to remain true to the four tracks here, or expand or alter their sound, will be interesting. It would be great to hear more tracks like ‘Across The Universe’, mingling alongside the more collaborative songs, as shows the full range and palette that the band have. I can point at no negatives at all and was left wanting more and coming away a fan of the group. I hope that they experience resounding success and longevity, as in today’s market, there are few bands or acts that can compel you to be inspired, revisit past acts or influence your own songwriting with a mere few songs. The House of Hats, however, have managed to do this, and whilst not overly-familiar with folk myself, sans Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, I will now be seeking out more new music like this. Make sure you give them a listen and patronage, because they are deserving of the attention they are sure to receive. Listen to the E.P. and put yourself in a good mood…
… because how much music can achieve that with such ease?