Few records are as tied to geology as Gauntlet Hair’s self-titled debut. Andy R and Craig Nice relocated from Chicago to Denver while writing what would become Gauntlet Hair, which certainly could not have hurt their ability to create the mountain-sized hooks and cavernous echoes laid bare on their songs.
That kind of immersive study is especially necessary when you’re trying to emerge from the shadows (or stalactites) of last year’s unimpeachably face-melting “I Was Thinking...” The duo’s first single featured everything necessary to overcome the messy terrain of such treble-heavy production—assertive-yet-spacious guitar chords and mountaintop yodels held down by bedrock percussion. While their debut LP makes use of the same tools, it continually falls just short of their own lofty benchmark in favor of different experiments in texture.
“Keep Time” puts the same furious emphasis on both percussion and vocals, while its gliding guitar hook develops slowly over a loud-quiet-LOUD dynamic. It gets to be pretty big, but the slow-churning guitar hook does a good job of keeping the rest of the song’s adrenaline together in one piece.
While elusive, this self-imposed restraint is a critical factor in the mere feasibility of this extended noise. And though it’s hard to make something with such a rocky foundation sound gentle, both “Lights Out” and “Showing” create soft spaces just before the album’s runtime starts making things too coarse.
Yet, other parts are less successful at tying together the disparate parts. “My Christ” tries too hard to force its hand, while the moving parts of “Mop It Up” mix like oil and water. “Top Bunk” is the most immediate takeaway from the album, and the best illustration of how a single guitar part can transition seamlessly from siren hooks to a shimmering backdrop, and back again. As loud and obtuse as Gauntlet Hair can get, moments like this show the duo’s deft hand at capturing the gorgeous nature of their sound, too.
No matter how you feel about their echoed sound, there’s no mistaking how well they’ve adapted to operating within it. They combine the aesthetic segments of their production to capture the panorama of their mountainous sound, and perhaps the most tragic thing about Gauntlet Hair is that so many people will glance over it after only having listened through computer speakers. This is a richly detailed record that demands maximum volume.
There’s nothing on Gauntlet Hair that rivals the pop-minded immediacy or the floor-stomping clamor of “I Was Thinking...,” but it still manages to wade deeper into an abyss that few bands manage to come out of successfully. The fact that a conversation about a band with this much reverb and treble has gone over 450 words without even a passing mention of chillwave is an accomplishment in itself, but there’s a legitimate argument to be made here that Gauntlet Hair are just a soft-core version of Wu Lyf. They both make cavernous projections of mountainous noise, though on “I Was Thinking...” Gauntlet Hair displayed a much more capable hand at wrangling that force into flawless pop hooks. It’s just too bad we didn’t get more of that on this full-length.