Although I've never been a huge follower of the group, I have managed to keep basic tabs on Hood throughout their existance. After hearing rumblings that their new album was probably their best one ever, I decided to catch up with them again and see what all the fuss was about. After all, the last time I gave one of their releases a spin was nearly 5 years ago on Rustic Houses Forlorn Valleys. From the first notes of Cold House, it's easy to hear that this is a completely different group, and fortunately the progression that they've made is one of mostly positive.
The essence of the group is still there in that they create mostly melancholy music with fragile vocals, but over the years they've taken elements that were once only used for flourishes and side elements and incorporated them much more fully into their sound. While on Rustic Houses Forlorn Valleys, they used backwards tape effects and some digital work to create some otherworldly, downright spooky effects in their music, this new album finds them embracing the digital medium as a whole, with a variety of programmed beats (from cut-up hip hop to skittery glitch) and other subtle electronic manipulations.
Similar to what Radiohead did with Kid A and Amnesiac, (which many reviews have compared them too) Hood is now floating somewhere between rock and IDM land. Opening with chopped-up beats, sad strings, and shimmering guitars on "They Removed All Trace That Anything Had Ever Happened Here," many of the familiar elements of the group are still there. Despite the changes in sound, the track still has that same feeling of despair that haunted their early work, and in a strange addition near the end, even cut-up vocals from members of rap group CloudDead don't sound out-of-place.
"You Show No Emotion At All" rumbles along with a squelched-out beat and some gurgling synths before a nice bassline and subtle horns come in to back the great vocals. "The Winter Hit Hard" starts out almost purely in the electronic realm, crackling along with glitchy beats and slow pulsing bass notes before dropping into a short second half in which a more live-sounding performance arises, sounding like it is indeed being played from inside a snowdrift. Just about the time that you think the group is sogging down too much in slower tracks, they drop their most 'pop' track ever in "I Can't Find My Brittle Youth." Taking a less electronic route, the track rumbles along with a step-up bassline and well-spaced guitar while live-drum sounds are chopped and spliced below.
As usual, the vocals from the group are somewhat cold and detached sounding in regards to their delivery, but that's part of the appeal of the group. While they do emote a bit more in tracks like the aforementioned "I Can't Find My Brittle Youth," much of the time their inclusion is somewhat detached feeling (especially in comparison to Yorke of Radiohead). Also, while it definitely has higher points than their past albums, Cold House is stil primarily a more melancholy disc. With the embracing of the new sounds, though, the group isn't just mining the same territory over and over again. It's definitely a great step for the group, and another excellent release that I didn't catch when it came out last year.