Out Hud have been banging their way around in scurrilously oblique style since back in 1998, combining an irreverent (but not disrespectful) blender of any vaguely danceable dance music style with why-the-hell-not punk attitude and a healthy dose of lunacy. Sometimes they sounded like some manic rhythm-splicing IDMeister gatecrashing one of David Mancuso’s revered Loft parties back in the ‘80s, sometimes like Gang of Four having an argument with Arthur Baker, sometimes like New Order smoking up at a DJing session by New York dub/house pioneer Bobby Kondors. Yes, all of this sounds terribly trendy, as perhaps it should, ‘cos Out Hud are both funky and stylish, and of course the New York scene is still so now, darling.
However, the Brooklyn-based collective (provisionally around five members, as far as I can tell, with Justin Vandervoigen at the helm) aren’t in it for the attitude, nor do they really have that much in common with the hipster New York punk-funk scene. This isn’t to say they disdain James Murphy’s class of DFA (several of their members are also in last year’s ticket-de-chic, !!!, after all), but rather that, instead of making (garage) rock with dance music leanings, they’ve taken everything significant to occur in dance music in the past 20 years or so, electronic or no, and then decided to take it forwards, occasionally adding in the odd guitar when it felt right. These are people who rate Arthur Russell the cellist/spoken word weirdo as much as Arthur Russell the proto-house “Loose Limbs” producer, who feel the afrobeat in house, techno and hip-hop, and who like some nervous acid with their dub. Oh, and their gigs are as mad-ass as you might hope.
What Out Hud—more modern than just thinking outside the box, you see; they’re outside your head up display—didn’t do until now, for whatever reason, were vocals. After 30-second crashing-aircraft-tone-meets-levitating-deep-bass-groove opener “This Just In” we’re treated to the ethereally echoing rave stomp of “It’s For You”, on which cellist Molly’s and keyboardist Phyllis’ pseudo-naive vocal tones sound initially incongruous but soon seem perfectly at home, especially on the keyboards-driven, über-‘80s choruses. Leaving behind the crumar, tambourine and telephone FX of that track, we shift into the marauding bass and Detroit house beat of previous single “One Life to Leave” where keyboards and guitars once more leave lambent trails for the singing to flow around and through. The lyrics tend to be laconic and puzzled (/puzzling) rather than disinterested, regretful rather than angry; vocals are there to add chant-a-long melodic lines and thoughtfulness rather than rabbel-rousing shouts. It’s one love for the riddim here.
“Old Nude” then flirts with the beginnings of electro, the occasional moment of brutal DSP-ing and acid FX over its stately five minutes before rising up through layers of glitter on a cello beam, only to be met coming the other way by the opening guitar squall of eight-minute epic, and disc highlight, “The Song So Good They Named It Thrice”, which disdains any attempts at poppiness whatsoever and goes straight for the groove jugular with murderous efficiency, as the damn thing builds and builds through an electrifying synth tone, several beats, shifting percussion, keyboards and the cello, before building some more just for the hell of it, only to plateaux at the blissful six-minute mark… and then rolling up and off again into industrial gloom.
There follows “How Long”, which somehow manages to combine chamber orchestra pop and stuttering b-boyist rhythmics, and “2005: A Face Odyssey”, which proves beyond doubt that you can base a journey into dub of around seven minutes on a wicked hip-hop break without things ever seeming less than groovy and beguiling. Then comes the tiny, vocal-and-harp interlude “A Trillion Watts”, which is mercilessly mashed into the floor by the humping beat of 11:35 monster, and best named track of the year so far, “Dear Mr. Bush, there are over 100 Words for Shit and only 1 for Music. Fuck You, Out Hud”, which takes acid house and extends it to the horizon; a throbbing, slowly unfolding map over which synths and a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-recalling cello melody sweep like cloud banks. It should go without saying that basslines prowl all over this track (and just about everything on the record) like a size-too-small lycra jumpsuit, and they will harass yo’ ass until you movin’, belie’ me.
Things come to a lose with the bijoux of pretty oddness that is “The Stoked American”, but by then it’s already clear that if you want to dance, then Out Hud are your outfit of choice. They’re the current standard bearers for this one nation under a groove we’ve been hearing about, and about time too.