Written by: Dave Cantrell
An album of songs loosely linked around the thematic chain of cultural alienation – the hip-hopped orthography of the title a winking nod to current-day street – Gravez is also the record that by all rights should pull Hooded Fang into the garage-psych-pop big leagues with Tame Impala, Black Angels, name your team. Blessed by a big, barely-contained-explosion sound and suitably sheened in phasey dynamics to make it seem as if you just stepped out of a nice refreshing lysergic shower, Gravez will come as something of a welcome shock to those of you who were but marginally aware of this Toronto band before now.
Formed in 2007, the once more sprawling Hooded Fang is at this point stripped down to the core quartet of April Alierm, she of the deep and agile bass, Daniel Lee singing, playing guitar, occasionally drumming, Lane Halley providing the snaking chiming plangent lead and D. Alex Meeks the rhythm king behind the kit. As is not infrequent, it would seem the Fang have discovered the counter-intuitive axiom that a tightening of the ship often produces an expansion of the manifest. They may not have personnel dedicated exclusively to trombone and keyboards as they’ve had in the past, but the four left standing brandish enough noise and full-dimensional songcraft to quiet any doubters. Making good on the promise shown on 2012’s Tosta Mista – no shortage of hooks, they just weren’t this meaty nor penetratingly sharp and sounded more indebted to an earlier generation of psych-pop stylists – and a magnitude or two further on from 2010’s pleasantly jangly self-titled debut, this album pulls off that rare adjectival trick of being both panoramic and grounded, surely the sign of a band growing into their own voice, flush with a brimming confidence. The “Dry Range Intro” and “…Outro” notwithstanding, Gravez is packed nearly wall-to-wall with one assured wallop after another.
On the un-misspelled “Graves,” we emerge out of a bass entry worthy of JJ Burnel into a four-on-the-floor rocker filtering Parquet Courts through the lean ‘n’ mean precision of Helmet. That it sports one of the catchiest, most charming ba-ba-b-ba middle bits we’ve heard this year in the midst of lyrics despairing of suburban ennui only bolsters the impression of a band that’s stepped onto a much broader stage. On its heels comes the escape theme-cementing “Ode To Subterrania,” announced with a screaming single guitar note reminiscent in style if not tone of the one-note guitar solo before sliding into a garage-throbbed groove that wouldn’t be out of place at a high school dance circa 1966, although, certainly, were Hooded Fang actually the band playing at that prom there’d be no boredom to escape.
“Wasteland” – which if it isn’t the first single off of Gravez someone should be fired – rushes without hesitation into ‘Song Of The Year’ territory (that’s not hype) on an intricate guitar filigree under-girded by an easy-going monster of a bass groove, with Lee in his unadorned voice, a little calm, a little desperate, sealing it with a double run of do-do-do‘s the ostensible lightheartedness of which isn’t fully convincing, especially as Halley’s whammy-barred solo chases along above it, hounding every syllable. Riding in unabashedly aboard a Swervedriver stylee, “Sailor Bull” is no slouch of a follow-up, the Aliermo-Meeks rhythm section nailing it down to the vibrating floor immediately, enhanced by Halley’s boxed-in guitar and the big flat production the whole thing leans on. And while the Swervedriver nod confounds at first – the garage-psych buzz still permeates here like exhaust smoke – the song serves to illustrate that indeed Adam Franklin (not to mention Kevin Shields and of course J Mascis) was mining similar influences back then, lending credence to the oft-cited 20-year cycle, so by all means let’s make a date for 2033.
Though not quite a perfect record – “Thrasher” feels a bit thin and stitched together and those “Dry Range..” bookends don’t add much – Gravez lands in the middle of 2013 with a commanding presence and an enviable virtuosity (“Genes” even flirts with a jarring Beefheartian blues motif). Muscular but dextrous, Hooded Fang spin an impression of loose-limbed spontaneity around a tightly wound center, not nearly as easy a task as it might seem, a fact evidenced by the small handful of bands that manage to pull it off. Hooded Fang, decidedly, now join that club.