On Hood's Web site, "small-town boredom" is the only explanation given for this simple question: "Why?" And although I'm having a tough time imagining the band has actually been asked to justify their existence more than once (if at all), "small-town boredom" certainly goes a long way toward describing this English quartet's languid, bleak pop. The band's sound has mutated many times over the course of nine albums, but 2001's brilliant Cold House and this year's Outside Closer are chilling distillations of the hopelessness, claustrophobia and mindless tedium only a hometown can provide -- a pulsating musical landscape they paint with scattershot electronics, world-weary guitars and cavernous horns.
Whereas their previous effort relied more heavily on electronic textures, albeit the kind injected with a curious blend of post-rock and hip-hop (courtesy of San Francisco's trio Clouddead), band leaders Chris and Richard Adams have sought a more accessible, emotive pop sound with Outside Closer. But while you might be thankful for the exclusion of the Leeds quartet's more inscrutable instrumentals, you're sure to miss the surprise of hearing Clouddead's Doseone spit a few verses over such a starkly English pop stew.
Still, after fifteen years making music, Hood deserves a crossover record, and this effort certainly makes a strong case. "End of One Train Working" and "Closure" mine pop's melancholy depths without letting the songs ego-trip themselves into art-house detachment -- an impressive feat given Hood's penchant for the avant-garde. And on the pleasantly upbeat "The Negatives...," the members of Hood reaffirm their small-town obsessions with a line that commands you "to go to the furthest place from your house, stand there a while, make sure you're broke, and watch the birds fly by," sung over an FM-friendly swirl of strings and warm synths.
Even though Outside Closer attempts to woo a few folks without archived record collections, it still manages a couple brow-furrowing shockers. The album's first single, "The Lost You," takes a sliced 'n' diced beat that Prefuse 73 would be proud of and runs it headlong into a particularly pissy Coldplay tune in a sometimes gorgeous but always engaging bit of Britpop.
Hood isn't afraid to take chances, and this record has its fair share of listless moments. The odd track or two staggers from a girth of ideas, but Outside Closer finishes strong. Consistencies of theme and musical tone describe a complete vision of a community almost imperceptibly imploding -- a Leeds ossified with monotony and straining helplessly against relationships that imprison rather than liberate. Fortunately, the band's music refrains from sounding as heavy-handed as the rhetoric it inspires. Instead, Hood sounds like nothing else.
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