One spring morning in Virginia, Bottom of the Hudson’s frontman, Eli Simon, saw a red-tailed hawk swoop in on an injured blue jay that had slammed into the side of a house. Horrified and astounded, Simon watched and listened as the hawk clawed, pecked, and snapped the bones of the blue jay and then flew away. “Wow,” Simon thought. “Fantastic hawk.”
This vision, through a year-long process of hard work and frustration — trashing six songs, working in three different studios, firing a band member and friend — would eventually become a thirteen-track full-length, the band’s proper first. Critics call the album an easy ride, beginning with luminous, dreamlike and feathered melody and transforming into muscular, heavily rhythmic rock. Each of the experimental songs falls somewhere between these two dynamics, and all are full of instrumentation and spliced with gentle hooks. But what the critics can’t seem to agree on is just where this distinct sound comes from. The list of bands cited as influences is vast: early Church, early My Bloody Valentine, Echo and the Bunnymen, Sebadoh, Guided by Voices, Band of Horses, Say Hi to Your Mom, Jose Gonzales, Beach Boys, Iron and Wine, Pavement.
Opener “Fantastic Hawk” is a warm and gradual build of an introduction that completely caught me off guard. It was the simple, alluring melodies, and subtle implications that sucked me in; it was the occasional grandiose gestures that kept its grasp on me; and it was the warm, lyrical storytelling that made me wanting more. “Handwriting” shows this off best, as Simon sings: “In the corner is the note she wrote, with her pretty handwriting.” On the steady acoustic scrape that is “Rusty Zippers,” everything rests on Simon’s captivating vocals, and he nails it with more timeless lyrics: “Some days the heaviest hearts/ dig themselves out from the deepest parts/ because even they know when it’s time to go.” “Over Engineered” is the album’s greatest sing-along; an ambitious and enduring workout.
Sadly, it’s unclear where Bottom of the Hudson will go from here. The band’s tour in support of Fantastic Hawk ended tragically after a car accident on July 29 that claimed the life of bassist Travis Butler. At this point, we can only hope for more.