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Posted on December 8th, 2011 (4:38 pm) by Nick Arnemann

There’s a fine line to walk in the world of experimental pop-rock—let’s call this mid-tempo electropop, if you’ll indulge me. There might be the impulse among the wistful headnodders armed with Day-Glo painted keyboards and synths to neglect simple things–pace, melody, fun, what have you—for pure intensity, whether the buzzy hyper speed of trance dominates or slower, formless ambient house muddles things. Denver duo Gauntlet Hair have settled on a relatively simple formula with their second album Gauntlet Hair, and come close to complete success, infusing fun, modestly upbeat hooks and rhythm with heavy doses of down-the-hall reverb and hissing, tinnitus-inducing basic percussion, though the prescription often comes across like Valium for a headache. Still, it’s sure to get the most spaced-out clubber’s toes a-tapping, for a while.

Cohesively combining electronic/experimental with more mainstream forms—in this case rock and pop—is nothing new. Animal Collective have had popular success with fun experimentation and a solid pop sensibility for the better half of a decade, while relative newcomer tUnE-yArDs (Merrill Garbus) has done the same with a more hip-hoppy/R&B base. Gauntlet Hair, comprised of guitarist and vocalist Andy R. and drummer Craig Nice (recently off tour with the Dodos this summer), follows this tried and true pattern and puts forth a modest effort.

It’s when they get too comfortable with that pattern, however, that this album drags. Chimey delayed guitars, white noise percussion and reverb drenched stammering go far enough in a song or two, or three, but across the album, motifs start to repeat and songs begin to meld. Whether or not this was their intention is up for debate, if it matters at all—while the album can be taken for suitable background music, there are shining moments of fun that force the music out of the periphery into the spotlight, making those background moments all the more glaring.

This incongruence manifests itself in small ways throughout the album. For example, since most of the lyrics are nigh-indecipherable, the vocals come across as purely aesthetic and often take a back seat to the overall spectacle of the instrumentation. Andy’s Avey Tare-like vocals are part and parcel of the music, though, and should not be relegated to a secondary position—on most songs, like lead track “Keep Time” and “Lights Out,” his voice pleasantly mimics and plays with the guitar lines. His vocals are strongest in the beginning few tracks, but really drop off in impact after that, which aids in pushing this album back into the scenery.

There are several perfectly fine stand-alone songs, like “Mop it Up,” “Overkill” and “Top Bunk.” My best recommendation for listening to Gauntlet Hair is to first give it its full due, but then put it on in the background for successive plays. It’s a good album, at times very good, but GH’s insistence on submerging the songs in the same vat of reverb and whirling synthy mush dulls the impact of some really great songs. Stripped bare, these songs would stand in contrast with each other a bit better; as it is, the veneer unfairly binds them together. That said, Gauntlet Hair still beats most forays into modern, tolerable electrorock/pop.

Track List
1. Keep Time
2. Top Bunk
3. Mop It Up
4. My Christ
5. Lights Out
6. Showing
7. Overkill
8. That's Your Call
9. Shout in Tongues

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

67 / 100
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