(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, August 12, 2011

CD review - Cut Off Your Hands, Hollow (2011)

Rooted in old school reverb and Smiths style post punk

Cut Off Your Hands seem like they've picked up their influences via long range osmosis. On Hollow, the New Zealand band evokes the Smiths and the Cure with their indie flavored post punk sound. They give it their own upbeat spin by dragging in some earlier sounds. The mix of up tempo rhythms and downbeat lyrics is less bipolar than "glad to be sad".

The Smiths element is largely based on some nice Johnny Marr style guitar arrangements and the thick sheen of reverb in the production, although I half think the title, Hollow, is a reference to the Smiths' Hatful of Hollow. Given some of the '60s pop aspects to the album, that wall of reverb could be more directly attributed to Phil Spector, who Johnny Marr also admired. The sound of a long, soft decay is like the band is trapped in amber or behind a glass wall. It creates a sense of distance, both sonic and emotional.

The shimmery guitar on Oh Hell rides the thick echoes much like some of Marr's work. The brief bits of sparkly notes on the bridge solo take me back. At the same time, the track has a more modern indie rock drum beat. The chorus falls back to a kind Supertramp-like lushness, filled out with harmony vocals.

On the other hand, frontman Nick Johnston's vocals are more Robert Smith than Morissey. Several of the songs bridge pop and post punk like the Cure's post Gothic phase. The opening track, You Should Do Better injects an uptempo, rolling snare beat, but it's not too far from Friday I'm In Love. The bass line is vintage Cure, as well. It's a strong start for Hollow. The lyrics and guitar hook are catchy without being fluff. As Johnston recounts his failings as a boyfriend, the beat moves on insistently.

Several tracks break the post punk pattern or at least extend it. The Beach Boys harmonies on By Your Side offer a retro sense of the '60s, filtered through Tom Petty chord changes.

Staying with the '60s vibe, Fooling No One kicks off with a strong Byrds feel: a driving beat and Roger McGuinn style guitar jangle. The thick reverb here takes on that Spector vibe, making the track sound ready for a vintage AM radio. The backing vocals are subtle but very interesting.

Despite the retro feel, this song offers the best sense of Cut Off Your Hand's voice. The pop sensibility and anthemic music are juxtaposed with resigned lyrics, settling into a hopeful middle ground. It fits in well with Hollow's consistent sound rooted in old school reverb and post punk.

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