Yesterday afternoon, the sky was grey. So was the weather -- a foretaste of the rain and autumnal chilliness to come. It was, therefore, a perfect day for Cold House.
Hood's gentle but persistent compositions will play a cat-and-mouse game with your senses. They revel in incongruity, injecting glitchy electronic filigree and, though I hate to say it, Kid A-style artificiality into elegant, downbeat orchestral pop songs. The effect should be shocking -- rather like discovering a bright, shiny, state-of-the-art kitchen in the middle of a two hundred year-old house -- but there's something shy, something secretive about Hood's music that keeps it from breaking the surface tension of your attention. Even hip-hop deconstructionists Dose One and Why?, who add their distinctive voices to the album's first few tracks, don't jolt you as they should. It's a miracle of mannered performance that, even at its loudest, can fill a room without ever quite ruffling the ambiance.
That's not to say you won't notice these songs. "The Winter Hit Hard", which mixes clicks and pops with dreamy orchestrations and frayed emotional warblings, is a little like a jazz dub experiment, its cacophonous cloud pierced by stabbing, nasal vocals. "I Can't Find My Brittle Youth", which follows, is a cardboard cutout of a particularly compelling pop song, held in place by a sinuous bass line and aggressive (but muted) drumming; just when you think Hood are going to leave the song to its own devices, it disintegrates into sampled white noise. "The River Curls Around the Town" is a bleary-eyed waking dream of guitar and keyboards, its simple melody gradually decaying and fragmenting into stuttering, bell-like tones. And of course, we can't ignore "Branches Bare", in which Dose One and Why's sharpened, languorous rhymes drag a gentle, sleepy pop song in odd, edgy new directions.
Don't listen to Cold House if you're paranoid; it does odd things to your senses, lending sight and sound the same echoing artificiality and awkward perceptual delay as a poorly-patched long distance call. Don't listen to Cold House if you're depressed, either; do you expect an album called Cold House to be warm, insular and comforting? It may seem so at first...but it's a trap. And speaking of traps, don't listen to Cold House if you're agoraphobic or claustrophobic. It's full of broad, wide-open sonic spaces that gradually contract around the listener.
For that matter, you may wish to avoid Cold House if you really liked Hood's Home Is Where It Hurts EP, released earlier this year. Home... was gentle and sophisticated, but also far more animated than Cold House. To wit, if Home Is Where It Hurts is subtle, Cold House is a former subtlety lecturer and head of the Subtlety Department at Oxford University that has left the subtle world of academic subtlety for a lucrative career in private-sector subtlety.
If you like your records a little blurry, however, you're in for a real treat. Wait for a chilly, rainy day, brew yourself a cup of tea and pop Cold House in the player. And instead of listening, try not to listen. See? It's impossible.