Houndstooth’s 2013 release, Ride Out the Dark, was a humble introduction to the Portland, Oregon band. While they weren’t fighting for your attention, they were at least interesting enough to warrant more than a few listens. And, like anything so elegantly simple, you continue to find new things to appreciate after spending some real time with it. No News From Home takes this relationship beyond the “getting to know you” phase and puts all those hidden gems from their first album, right out front.
It opens with the driving “Bliss Boat,” hitting harder and faster than anything on Ride Out the Dark. Katie Bernstein’s voice is more confident and clear than anything else you’ve heard from her. They still have all the trappings of the lazy “slacker rock” vibe so prevalent on their first album, putting them on par with their more well known contemporaries, like Courtney Barnett and Real Estate. But, unlike these artists, there is an endearing lack of charisma or “talking points” to Houndstooth. What they lack in style or “hipness,” they make up for in sincerity, but this isn’t to imply that they are void of style. A jean jacket can be stylish. It’s just a little more understated than satin.
There is an appeal to this no frills approach. You’ll rarely hear a “riff” or “fill” coming from the rhythm section. Instead, they lock into these driving, repetitive ideas, evoking aspects of electropop bands like Stereolab or Broadcast. Their lyrics tend to be a little on the abstract side, with the occasional relatable line about pain and loss, delivered through “old world” imagery. Put this up against the more popular, similar bands, and you loose that audience that likes their pop music to speak directly to them. Me, I don’t come from a pop and rock background. I’ve always preferred colors and textures over hooks and relatable lyrics. What I found appealing in many of the pop bands I choose to listen to, is their use of audible space. You can allow the mind to paint a picture along with the music, as long as you leave room for it. Bands like Spoon or even the Velvet Underground are wizards at this. No News From Home follows this model and implements some of their own tricks, offering new ideas to digest, if you’re willing to listen for them. But, it’s not all high mindedness. There is an “everyday” element to Houndstooth. They have just enough relatable elements to work at a get together as they do with a more mindful listening through your headphones.
RIYL: Heartless Bastards, Courtney Barnett, Velvet Underground, Mazzy Star, Fleetwood Mac