[5 December 2013]
“I can be the sun / I can be the ocean,” Brooklyn duo Hunters yowl with reckless abandon on the aptly titled “Narcissist”. Whether meant to be tongue-in-cheek or a sincere declaration of youthful vanity is immaterial, as whatever the perception gleaned, it launches the band’s eponymous debut album with gusto. An opening buzzsaw rumble lumbers along forebodingly before charging out of the gate without relent. When Izzy Almeida and Derek Watson’s dueling vocals come in, the record’s palette is cemented. It’s sleazy, it’s chaotic, it’s energizing.
The group’s paradigm of noise-punk layered with melodic hooks is a common enough model, but Hunters pursue some sideways diversions on the grime-ridden path. The most immediate motif is the shout-trading between Almeida and Watson, giving the album a sense of dynamism right from the get-go and carrying on throughout its run. Both of their voices have that street savvy charisma, Watson’s breathier and unrefined while Almeida displays an admirable, albeit rough, range following in the vamp sexiness of Alison Mosshart and Jilly Weiss. Yet the most impressive innovations are in longer cuts “Nosebleed” and “Blackheart”, which start as brash as anything else before pulling the rug out. Around the 2:30 mark in the former, the fury dies down to the point where you think the song has concluded, only for a decidedly more delicate melody to come bubbling up, echoing the Velvet Underground in their prettier moments. The tune builds in volume and tempo until it returns to the previous verse-chorus-verse screed, eventually collapsing in an outro of feedback and distortion. “Blackheart” starts similarly, all clattering percussion, fuzzy distortion, and Almeida’s caterwauling, before making a serpentine segue into a hazy drift of a conclusion.
That these two standout cuts are placed consecutively in the middle makes the first half of the album seem like a buildup to them, and the latter half a comedown of sorts. Of course, this means Side B is neither as rewarding nor as memorable as its predecessor, especially as it lacks anything that comes close to matching the album’s most infectious tune, third track “She’s So”. Hypnotic in its repetitive riff then developing into some Sonic Youth-style progressions, Watson’s frayed voice duets with Almeida’s sweet deadpan in the catchy refrain of “Hold tight / I won’t let you go”. On the way out, Almeida sings “There’s something about her / She’s so…” in a higher register as the instrumentation grows more clamorous. It’s a steaming mess of gutter pop, and that’s a compliment.
Fans of more standard barn-burners need not fear, for there is no shortage of battery acid-spewing ravers here, largely whipped onward by Watson’s guitar. At different times, the guitar tones are reminiscent of Pavement’s, while at others their scuzz recalls Mudhoney. The pattern adhered to is that during most of the verses, the guitar has the sound of vermin scurrying on the fret, then bursting like a scalding geyser come the refrains. Raw and dirty it sure is, the production amping up the feel that the album was recorded in a boiler room or an oil-slicked mechanic’s garage. On the downside, the pattern is adhered to so strongly it makes the songs of this vein redundant. You may find yourself checking your iPod to make sure a track didn’t accidently repeat itself (check out the opening guitar riffs of “Nosebleed” and “Wonder” in particular).
Taken as a whole, Hunters is a document of a band capable of more than they really commit to. When they break from the norm, they are wholly compelling, yet when they play it safe, the results are merely fine without being exceptional. Hopefully their follow-up record sees Hunters indulging the former more than rooting for themselves in the latter.