Cold House (Aesthetics)

Melancholy is a hybrid emotion: Never fixing upon a single object, it flits between myriad strands of abstract sadness. So perhaps it's fitting that Hood's fifth long-player, Cold House, is not only one of the most melancholy records of the year but also a triumph of musical hybridity, drawing together folk-flavored indie rock and the skittering beats of experimental electronica.

While Hood began in the mopey guitar style of My Bloody Valentine, by the mid-'90s the Leeds, England, quartet was experimenting with post-industrial beats and allowing its songs to be irreverently -- even unrecognizably -- remixed. The track that opens Cold House, "They Removed All Trace That Anything Had Happened Here," shows how far Hood's unorthodox approach has progressed. The feathered acoustic guitar and downcast vocals fall comfortably within the recent trend of British folk-inspired pop, an unofficial movement wherein "quiet is the new loud." But Hood transcends sensitive navel-gazing, adding clattering rhythms reminiscent of dot-matrix printers to create a disturbing digital undertow. "The Winter Hit Hard" pursues this strategy to even greater effect, as crackling static, whirls of feedback, and dubbed-to-death drums bury a fragile acoustic melody. Granted, Hood's approach isn't entirely new: The tunes' percussive crescendos and clarinet remnants recall late recordings by the seminal English band Talk Talk. But the pingponging beats and vocal chirps of "This Is What We Do to Sell Out(s)" tell a more contemporary story, suggesting that Radiohead's Thom Yorke isn't the only rocker to have borrowed from laptop wonks like Autechre.

Perhaps mindful of the fact that a few drum machines aren't enough to cause a stir in the rock world these days, Hood enlists the help of guest vocalists Why? and Dose One, members of Oakland's experimental hip hop collective Anticon. Their contributions -- full of non sequiturs like "Sometimes the sun doesn't want to be photographed," delivered in nasal monotones -- add to the unsettling nature of Hood's music, as if egging it on toward implosion. In the end, though, all these tangents and fractures fold back into the whole, which is what makes Cold House so good. The post-techno textures and nods to hip hop are but footnotes to a wintry tale that lies open before you, as absorbing as melancholy itself.

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