Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hunting Club - Pretty / Ugly Album Review

I should probably have disclosed at the time that I wrote and published this review that it was for a friend's band... oh well. Shortly after the release of this album, however, my friend left Hunting Club so I guess if I was somehow benefiting the band, it didn't end up benefiting my pal that much. With that being said, I genuinely enjoyed the album as a good change of pace from what I was usually listening to at the time. And I'm always happy to get local Minneapolis bands some exposure when possible. This was originally published on March 4, 2009.

Minnesota winters can be long, frigid, and desolate affairs. To anyone not from the upper Midwest, the cold winter season sounds unbearable, but when you are born and raised in the land of 10,000 (usually frozen) lakes you learn to embrace the cold, sometimes even coming to love it. In dealing with the sometimes brutally arctic weather, a favorite method of coping utilized by Minnesotans is to get a group together, hide out in a cabin, pound back some PBR and Grain Belt, gather around the fireplace, and relax in the company of friends.

When you listen to Pretty/Ugly, it is quite obvious that Hunting Club has been influenced by the warm mood that often emanates from such gatherings. Think of them as melancholic parties in the middle of the frozen expanses surrounding all involved, each person coping with the desperate cold encroaching every part of a Minnesotan's winter life, with the exception of the warmth shared by this group of friends. This island of positivity in a landscape of what feels like hopelessness is, if you ask me, the manifestation of the shoegaze genre, or maybe shoegaze came about as a way to express these long, lonely Minnesota nights. I can’t tell you which, but Hunting Club are well entrenched in the introspective nature of the genre.

The EP starts out very sparsely, with the opening half of “Deep Sea Diver” playing out in a dissonant, minimalist fashion. The latter half of the song sees the band dropping the minimalist approach and amping up the dissonance and moodiness, bringing to mind another Minnesota band, Red Fox Grey Fox, only if they were a little more depressed.

Throughout the middle 4 tracks of the EP, the band oscillates between fuzzed out, indie rock and down-tempo shoegazing. There are nods to the stripped down style that Starflyer 59 used sporadically during their later career and the shoegaze approach of the great My Bloody Valentine. In an effort to add a little something new to the standard indie and shoegaze mix, there are some undertones of modern post-rock guitar playing, most notable in the latter half of “Redhot,” where you hear the use of twinkling, shimmering guitar tones that everyone associates with Explosions in the Sky. Not content to stick only with shoegaze, Hunting Club also strays, at times, into straight-up indie rock territory. There are hints of Yeah Yeah Yeahs in “Make It Work,” and “Hang On! We’re With You” attempts to close out the EP on a somewhat upbeat note.

Hunting Club are very much at their best when they’re keeping it low-key, using slower tempos, and utilizing the dissonance and fuzz of the shoegaze genre. Considering winter is still in full swing here in Minnesota, Pretty/Ugly is a welcome comfort. Even if you aren’t forced to deal with snowy winters and below 0 temperatures, I’m sure you’ll still be able to appreciate and enjoy Pretty/Ugly.

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