Gauntlet Hair. You read it right. That’s Gauntlet Hair. Gauntlet Hair is a band. They are probably the only band I can claim any sort of affiliation with, but, even then, only in the most tenuous, odd way. If you believe the internet, and who doesn’t, the name came from a thrift store employee in some big city suburb where band members Andy R & Craig Nice lived. I’ve been to that thrift store. I don’t know which one it is, but I have been to every thrift store or thrift store variant (flea market, antique store) in that town, so I have seen the place where the band found their name. It was a phrase used to try to describe Edgar Winter. Obviously, we’re as close as it’s possible to be with such a connection. We, the band and I, could talk about it for as long as it took, 15 or 20 seconds, filling the next minute with awkward silence.
But this is not about a name, it’s about the music produced by the band with that name. It’s much more important than mere identity. This is about music!
Gauntlet Hair’s sound is a little hard to grasp. With their heavy use of reverb/echo/delay, they sound a little like a hazy-sounding band playing at the opposite end of the largest aircraft hangar available. The result is not so much a wash of sound, but a constantly shimmering cloud, like the airborne water droplets at the bottom of Niagara Falls. Remove the hazy effects and they’d sound a lot like the Smiths with a harder beat and a (much) less whiny singer. But, when listening to Gauntlet Hair, you don’t have the choice to turn off the haze. You’re at the bottom of the falls, getting wet.
Their first, self-titled album released on the influential Dead Oceans label, is filled, start-to-finish with the haze. On “Mop it Up”, you can hear the guitars chiming and chirping from a vast cave while the vocals originate from a nearby sewer. Move to the next song, on “My Christ”, you can hear a slightly different sequence of the same chiming and the same voice, with slightly different rhythms coming from the same sewer pipes. Different rhythms mean, of course, different lyrics. What those lyrics are, I can’t tell you. I’m sworn to silence … or ignorance. By “Lights Out”, it has clearly become nighttime as a bass guitar rumbles up behind you to merge with what sounds like a gloomy synthpop cover song, but with another variant of chirping and sewer-vocals.
OK, there’s nothing wrong with repetition. Nor is there anything wrong with most of an album sounding like a slight variation of the same song. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you don’t like it. I’m not sure if I do. This album would be perfect background music for someone who can tolerate the medium distance beeping of a bulldozer backing up. If that doesn’t bother you, then the sometimes-piercing background noise of this album will perfectly suit a long work day; it’ll probably even assure your privacy. For me, I’d like to be able to differentiate songs a little more and be able to more clearly put the music in the foreground or background. Sure, each song starts with a different kind of noise, but, within 15 seconds, we’re back to cave/sewer. Even with that sameness, I think the album would be improved by at least a song-to-song variation in the mix. Maybe the chiming guitar could be featured here, the drums there, and the sewer pipe vocals in that other song. Also, let’s stop those rhythmic volume changes, permanently. It reminds me too much of the brake-accelerator rhythm of my grandfather just before he was too unsafe to drive — nauseating.
Despite whatever cruelty I dished out above, there are a few compelling songs and the album is worth consideration by fans of all things reverbed. In “That’s Your Call”, the drums join the singer in the sewer pipes and propel the song forward, past the more familiar mid-song sequences. In the closer, “Shout in Tongues”, the guitar escapes the reverb creating a kind of chug-chime that works well. I suppose there’s a limit to the reverb budget and, 9 songs in, most of it had been spent. Next time, cut the budget further. In any event, they’re kind of cute in a skinny-jeans wearing way.
So, yes, this is not the most enthusiastic review, but I am honestly looking forward to their next album, due out soon. I think Gauntlet Hair has discovered a nice noisy variation of more conventional indie rock. Hopefully, as they move forward, they can flesh it out more. If so, I predict they can reach the level of, say, Crystal Stilts, by being attentive thoughtful crafters of experimental noisy pop.
Meanwhile, I’ll swing by all the local thrift stores in search of other musical wisdom. If I don’t report back, look for me in the outdated opinions section, filed under ‘O’.