Let me say first off, it’s official: shaker is the new cowbell. I picture Hot Voodoo Lovin’ hard at work in the studio, when suddenly Christopher Walken bursts in, demanding “more shaker!” Shaker is in evidence on this self-titled debut, as is a fine mix of emotional vocals, rangy guitars, cool keyboard textures and propulsive drumming.
The disc’s atmospheres range from giddy to melancholy, often within the same song. The mini-epic “Grey Sometimes,” for example, begins with wistful acoustic guitar and violin, giving way to Ann Johnson’s haunted, alienated vocal (“You say I scared you/ You couldn’t feel my pain”) before being briefly overtaken by a sound effect which can only be described as a combined audio tape accident and chirpy extraterrestrial conversation. Then the song shifts gears, transforming into a fuzz-guitar and piano-driven rocker.
H.V.L. (I see logo potential here) effortlessly combine ennui and hipsway in the opening track, which kicks off with a Bo Diddley rhythm and a wah-guitar driven, almost Gwen Stefani-like chorus. The atmospheric “Moonlight Whispered” shifts gears again, featuring a hesitant, descending bass line and a slow instrumental buildup throughout the song. J. Scott Kump’s stuttering drums set the tone for “High Among This” which also includes some interesting percussion parts and liberal use of the aforementioned shaker. Harmonium-esque keys and violin add to the song’s moody vibe. The closing track, “Falling,” is peppered with disorienting funhouse keyboards and, uh, interestingly placed background vocals throughout. Lots of headphone material here.
The record was recorded at 20to20 Soundesign and the Aardvark Lounge. The relatively dry, intimate and immediate mix is clear and easy on the ears, a nice departure from the current glut of over-compressed and sonically hyped productions.
I snagged an advance copy for this review, thus I was privy only to a select few details about this release, including the use of baritone ukulele by the album’s principal songwriter and guitarist, RatMonkey. Does this signal the era of a new, genteel ‘Monkey? Only time and some eagerly anticipated shows by Hot Voodoo Lovin’ will tell.
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