Music labels rarely have a “sound” these days, what with most labels taking on any band they think they can promote effectively. 4AD, while housing a diverse group of artists, still has a type: If you make hazy shoegaze that references basically every noisy pop group from the late '80s, odds are you’ll land on their label. Kent, England’s It Hugs Back are the latest band to sound like the 4AD shoegaze roster ground up into a inoffensive patty with their mostly passable debut album, Inside Your Guitar.
Opener “Q” sets the formula for the rest of Inside Your Guitar. Lead singer Matthew (they’re only using first names as handles) does an Elliott Smith-referencing whisper as his band’s broken shards of misty pop are kept at an equally quiet level until a slightly louder feedback portion breaks through all the murkiness. On the effervescent “Work Day,” that format is perfected with tiny guitar riffs and relentlessly upbeat choruses about working a 9 to 5.
Inside Your Guitar is undone not by It Hugs Back’s relentless unoriginality (it’s mostly inoffensive); it’s that the tracks are all so shockingly similar and few pass the “medium” audio setting. At a point, everything (especially on tracks like “Remember,” “Soon,” and the dreadful “Forgotten Song”) is so cutely quiet that you wish someone would come in with an ear-shattering guitar solo. Instead, yet another medium-tempo, acoustic pop ditty comes in. There is one think that can be said for most of the tracks here: They would work brilliantly underneath scenes of teens coming to terms with a break-up or getting a C on a test. Or better yet, doctors doing everything but saving lives (like Grey’s Anatomy ). Call it TV noise pop.
When It Hugs Back do get loud, like on album highlight “Back Down,” they show flashes of talent and vitality that they never let show between the purposefully considered and quiet haze that dominates way too much of Inside Your Guitar .