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Tag: the hundred in the hands

Album Review: The Hundred in the Hands – The Hundred in the Hands [Warp]

With all the intense focus on glo-fi/chillwave these days, more normal-sounding dance records can skate under the radar with relative ease if you’re not paying attention. And dance rock, the genre upon which guitars hit hard amidst the beats, well that’s been as good as dead in the last couple years. This is why once highly prolific bands such as Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand find themselves in a bit of a struggle to survive in their current state. Evolve or die is the mantra, and that tends to go for dance rock bands both popular and unpopular. In keeping a close eye on the trends, many record labels are signing bands according to what’s hot, which is why glo-fi continues to make the (chill)waves it does. Not calling anything a mistake, but now and then you do get the occasional band making their debut while playing up trends that have already passed. The progressive dance label Warp signed the duo known as The Hundred in the Hands and is putting out their self-titled debut record this week, but one listen and you’ll get a firm grasp on a the hot sounds of 2005. Now it stands to argue that judging music purely based on the public zeitgeist is foolish, because you never know when some band will turn in a brilliant record using an outdated sound. Hell, if there’s a rap-rock record that comes out in the next couple months that’s incredibly smart and well put together, the general public would be idiots to not give it the proper attention. So let’s not judge The Hundred in the Hands based on what genre they’re choosing to exploit, but rather the content and composition of their songs.

Having hammered that point home, it’s a shame that The Hundred in the Hands don’t have something stronger to offer for a debut album. These two first attracted my attention a few months back when I caught their live set as they were opening for another band. It was such a strong show and such fun that they pretty much blew all the other bands on the bill that night out of the water. As a direct result, I picked up a copy of their “This Desert” EP and continued to be captivated by their somewhat quirky take on what would normally be a standard dance rock album. The issue is that the band apparently made the conscious choice to avoid that sound in order to move in a bit more of a mainstream and “traditional” direction. The sonic gap between what appears on that EP and this self-titled full length isn’t as big as you might think, but when you’re working in a world of stale ideas, any unique spin you can put on your music is an advantage. This is why the squeaky clean production on “The Hundred in the Hands” turns out to be a very bad thing, along with the easy melodies that occasionally feel like you’ve heard them before. As disappointing as that might be, the band still does well for itself on a few levels. First is simply Eleanore Everdell, who is simply amazing on virtually everything she puts her voice to. Those are some seriously strong pipes, both incredible in their range and depth of emotion. When she gets all bedroom eyes on “Lovesick (Once Again)”, it turns into one of the most beautiful and intense moments on the record. “This Day Is Made” is haunting and immensely gripping thanks pretty much entirely to her singing. It doesn’t always work out though, and a song like “Gold Blood”, which is heavy on the rock angle and ups the BPMs just a bit turns Everdell into a Karen O-like figure. Unfortunately, she’s no Karen O, and the track makes that all too clear. Instead of a wild child she’s best in the character of an ice queen, freezing you out with talk of empty houses and wasted time. Jason Friedman’s role as guitarist and general foil works just fine, though he does very little to distinguish himself on the record. Everdell’s synths are generally the more dominant instrument, and the mixed use of drum machines and live drums doesn’t seem to make much of a difference except to pile more polish on top of what’s already there.

Thankfully “The Hundred in the Hands” doesn’t fall prey to every dance rock cliche there is. There are moments, glimmers if you will, of a potentially great band amid the blatant attempts to generate hook-filled choruses that will reach more ears and rise them above many of their indie bretheren. Songs like the opening “Young Aren’t Young” and “Pigeons” stand out for their ability to maneuver around the simplest melodies and try for something greater. There’s potential here, as there was potential on the “This Desert” EP, just not nearly so much of it. When faced with two paths to travel down, The Hundred in the Hands chose the easier walk. They’re now paying for it by being tagged with the “just another band like dozens we’ve heard before” label. It’s a shame too, because Warp pretty much only signs “above average” bands, which this duo seemed to be based on my brief history with them through a live show and an EP. Hopefully this debut record does well enough for them that they’re able to hold onto their label for another one. That will truly be the test of how ready they are to play in the big leagues of indie. They don’t need to be glo-fi to make waves in dance music, they just need to be great. Right now, The Hundred in the Hands are only moderately good.

The Hundred in the Hands – Dressed in Dresden

Buy “The Hundred in the Hands” from Amazon

Show Review: The Golden Filter [Empty Bottle; Chicago; 6-9-10]

If you’re currently living in Chicago and know anything about the sport of hockey, chances are you’re celebrating right now. The Chicago Blackhawks claimed the biggest prize in hockey last night, known as the Stanley Cup for those with zero knowledge of the sport. I may not be the biggest hockey fan in the world, but I have been supporting the team pretty solidly the last few years. What happened on Wednesday was nothing short of amazing, and I do want to wish all my fellow fans the best and offer all the players a sharp congratulations. They say you’ll always remember exactly where you were for the important events in your life, and in an odd twist of fate, I happened to be at a sports bar right across the street from the Empty Bottle. The Golden Filter were in town and I was all set to go see them, but considering I had a little time before their set, watching the end of the hockey game at a bar with televisions was simply something I needed to do. So it was with great relief and much high-fiving that I cheered the Hawks on to victory, and then crossed the street and entered a dance party where everyone was having fun and didn’t seem to know or care that this city had just won a major sport championship. Such is the life of your rabid music fan these days.

Anyways, hockey aside, I wandered into the Empty Bottle in a jovial mood and caught the last couple songs by the first opening band, Chicago’s own Brilliant Pebbles. Despite having heard of them and seeing their name on a number of different show listings around town, I had neither witnessed nor heard a single song by the band. Now that I have, I can tell you that on a bill with a band like The Golden Filter, Brilliant Pebbles more than fit in. Their 80’s inspired synth pop is built on fun and exciting melodies, and frontwoman Monika Bukowska has an energy and stage presence that grab and hold your attention. She dances, spins, skips and a number of other things while anchoring down the songs with her strong vocal presence. If the Yeah Yeah Yeahs got rid of their guitars and adopted synths and 80s dance music, they’d be Brilliant Pebbles. Pretty good stuff for the couple songs I saw, even if the crowd was remarkably thin at that point in time.

Sandwiched between the opener Brilliant Pebbles and the headliner The Golden Filter was the New York duo The Hundred In The Hands. The male-female combo released their debut EP on Warp Records last month, and their fuzzy dance anthems earned them a fair amount of praise. Again without having seen or heard a single note of this band’s music, I was not only pleasantly surprised but incredibly impressed as well. Frontwoman Eleanore Everdell handles much of the synths and all the vocals for The Hundred In The Hands, while Jason Friedman provided the basis for many of their melodies via electric guitar and bass. That’s not always apparent on their 6-track EP which features far less guitar, but there’s a fuzziness and shoegazey quality many of the songs take on when performed live that’s positively gripping. There were also hooks abound, making me think that not only is their live show great, but when their full length album is released later this year it could catapult this band into a big spotlight. If you’re not watching out for this band yet, now might be a good time to start.

Buy The Hundred In The Hands’ debut EP “This Desert” from Insound

When it came time for The Golden Filter to take the stage, the now ballooning crowd was more than ready. Dancing shoes were strapped on and there was just enough breathing room for the people close to the stage to bust a move without causing trouble for anyone who wanted to stand still. The thing is, nobody wanted to stand still, and unless you were purposely standing in the back, chances are you were at least tapping your feet. For those who’ve yet to hear The Golden Filter’s debut album “Voluspa”, it’s a cool dance record that bears similarities with artists such as Goldfrapp and Lykke Li in that many of the songs are electro-pop with breathy female vocals. That singer Penelope Trapps just so happens to be a gorgeous blonde has no bearing on those comparisons, there’s really just the sheer sonic similarity. While The Golden Filter tends to bring a dark moodiness to their songs on record, there’s a fresher energy and excitement that brings some added life to the songs when performed live. Tempos are picked up just a little bit, and thanks to some strong percussion work both using live drums and tambourines and cowbells among other things, the crowd really seemed into it. Of course there’s also the requisite clapping along with the beat, which if done right, will turn a good song into a great song live. Starting with the non-album track “Favourite Things” from the “Kitsune Maison Compilation 7”, The Golden Filter won everybody over by naturally listing “Chicago” among said favorite things. Bouncing from that into single “Hide Me” was a way to turn up the heat a little more and get people moving. “Solid Gold” sounded especially great midway through the set, and leading into the 6+ minutes of “Stardust” and the percussion heavy “The Underdogs” made for some amazing pieces of live music. After closing with “Thunderbird”, the band did come back out for one last song, which was a cover of The White Stripes’ classic “The Hardest Button to Button” (available, by the way, as a bonus track on the vinyl version of “Voluspa”). I never realized how easily that song can be manipulated into a dance track before, and The Golden Filter did it justice even without Jack White’s scalding guitar work.

Perhaps I was in such a good mood after that big Stanley Cup win, but I had a really great time watching these three bands perform. They’re all sonically similar as female-fronted electro-pop groups, but each one brought some different and compelling elements to their sets. Brilliant Pebbles has the strength of a wild singer in the form of Monika Bukowska. She really has a strong stage presence, even if there are only 2 dozen people standing around watching her band. Both Eleanore Everdell and Jason Friedman seem equally invested and strong as The Hundred In The Hands. They were the only band that used guitars, and when they did in conjunction with the synth-based melodies, magic happened. I’m going to keep my eyes out for them in the future because they’re absolutely going places. And The Golden Filter’s secret weapon was percussion, because whether it was the booming drum work on “The Underdogs” or the simiplest of clapping, the upping of the tempo during their set made the difference between a good and great performance. Nice work. There aren’t many dates left on the Golden Filter/Hundred In The Hands tour, but should you have the opportunity to see either of those bands separately or together, I’d call it an excellent idea. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some hockey-related bragging to do.

The Golden Filter – Hide Me

(US) Preorder “Voluspa” on vinyl from Insound

Favourite Things
Hide Me
Look Me In The Eye
Dance Around The Fire
Solid Gold
The Underdogs
The Hardest Button to Button (White Stripes cover)

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