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Concert Tue Nov 01 2011

Review: Gauntlet Hair with Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ The Empty Bottle, 10/27

If lineups were made on performance alone, Gauntlet Hair would have headlined the show at the Empty Bottle Thursday night. The Denver-via-Chicago quartet play projectile jams of billowing reverb somehow wrangled into neat, tight hooks.

Their 7" on Forest Family records last year, I Was Thinking..., is as good of an explosive pop jam as you're likely to hear, though they came to the Bottle in support of their recently released self-titled debut LP. The record illustrates the difficulty of pulling off this massive sound—for every dynamite hook there's another seemingly lifeless moment that gets tripped up by its own gratuitous reverb. At some points, they may as well be playing chillwave.

But what gets lost on record gets found on the stage, and their show finds the lively presence in each song by turning the whole thing up very, very loud. Each of their selections benefitted greatly from expanded volume, and really it was only set closer "I Was Thinking..." that seemed to drag underneath a weak guitar mix.

While the most identifiable parts of Gauntlet Hair's sound are the glistening guitars and yodeling vocals, the most important part might be the drums. The bedrock rhythms help ground the spacious treble, and do a better job of it the louder they are. That's the story with everything in Gauntlet Hair's set—proficiency through volume—and to nobody's surprise, it yielded more than a couple broken guitar strings.

A lot of the literature you'll read about Gauntlet Hair talk about them as if they're playing for us from the top of a mountain, which is both lazy and appropriate. It lends for convenient segues to the influence of their residence in Denver, but it also gets across the image of a band trying to connect with an impossible audience. While chillwave uses the same textures to make you feel like you're sharing a very intimate space, Gauntlet Hair want to make you feel like you're conquering new and impossibly large spaces together. They want to climb on top of mountains and shout for the world to hear them. And when they do this—when they bite off more than they can chew with an unabashed fervor—they sound honestly, truly great.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra have the opposite problem with their music. Because if Gauntlet Hair's "chillwave" comparisons are not the most treacherous waters to wade, UMO's lo-fi backdrop is. The songs on their self-titled debut rely on tightly wound hooks and a production value that seems more sloppy than lo-fi, as if they've just stumbled upon these gems and are unsure about what to do with them. But when played live, their most endearing qualities are all but gone. Frontman Ruban Neilson runs through extended guitar riffs, fingerpicking solos that had no real business crowding his hooks to begin with. On stage their aesthetic is still sloppy, but this time it's not as forgivable. The paying audience came for the hooks, those undeniably catchy compartments of pop that somehow trick us into liking twee music. But if you can't provide them, then forget album sales and press hype—let the guys who know what they're doing on stage take the top billing while you figure it out.

 
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Tony / November 2, 2011 10:22 PM

Never saw either of them live, but definitely agree that the lo-fi sound is often better in the studio than on the stage. there's something about the quality that often doesn't translate well. hard to bring that essence to a live performance without sounding like crap. they'll figure out it though.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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