There’s something to be said for a band that’s as obsessed with revisionism as The Hoot Hoots are.
For the longest time, “Head Hoot” Adam Prairie has been the kind of songwriter who doesn’t compromise his work: he continually remakes the same songs over and over, trying to improve upon them with each new iteration. When his ragtag band of Midwesterners released their rare Less is More EP back in 2004, it sounded very homespun: it was a simply-produced collection of pop-rock numbers that had little flourish but never once shied away from the band’s knack for an optimistic hook and a playful atmosphere. The best of these early songs, the charming keyboard ditty “Transmogrified”, would later get revised for the group’s debut full-length, 2007’s The Truth … Relatively Speaking, here given a thicker layer of production, with drums and bass far more prominently featured this time around. Yet Prairie and company weren’t stopping there: on 2009’s Missile Teeth EP, the group re-recorded the song one more time, here beefing up their production once more, adorning the track with all sorts of electronic bells and whistles, giving the simple little song its most professional sheen yet. Although the indisputable charm of the original version does gradually dissipate through each new revision, it’s obvious that, for the Hoot Hoots, things like radio play are a tertiary consideration for them: all they want is for their songs to sound as great as they possibly can.
Now, with Silly Lecture Series, it feels like the group has finally found their sound.
Prairie — along with drummer brother Chris, bassist Geoff Brown, and keyboardist/trumpeter Christina Ellis — finds joy in his childlike sense of whimsy and wonder, nowhere more evident than on the obvious winner “Play”, with its joyous shout-along chorus of “I don’t know if I’ll get things done today / All I wanna do is go outside and play”. Keyboards hum, and drums tumble along during the verses, but when that big fat chorus hits, some gigantic 90s-rock guitars kick in, a flurry of trumpet bursts fade us back into the verse, and it become immediately evident that the group’s main goal is to leave a big goofy smile on the listener’s face. To put it another way: if the Hoots listed “Calvin & Hobbes” and “Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem” as musical influences, no one would question it for a second.
That said, the Hoot Hoots know that there’s only so much whimsy one can take in any given sitting, which is why Silly Lecture Series favors brevity: 10 tracks clocking in at 36 minutes, nothing more. Even in that short timeframe, Prairie draws from a nice set of poppy influences, ranging Paul McCartney (the charming “All of This Day”, which threatens to turn into “Rocky Raccoon” at any given second) to NES video games (the serviceable “Cupcakes”) to Weezer (the chorus to “Basement” sounds more reminiscent of The Blue Album than just about anything Rivers Cuomo has penned in the last five years). While the tone for the whole album remains unrelentingly upbeat (almost to a fault at times), it’s still great to hear how such a young band is able to synthesize their divergent influences into a sound that still remains very much their own.
What’s unfortunate, however, is how the Hoots’ sense of whimsy can sometimes overtake them, no more apparent than on disjointed opener “Robots in Space 2.0” (the original — you guessed it — appearing on Missile Teeth EP), wherein the band speaks of robotic bears, taking one’s (robotic?) lover to a British commonplace, and planets exploding, all while armies of people shout along, creating a rather noisy, chaotic introduction to the band’s sound, one that fails to highlight their greater attributes. Ridiculousness can only take you so far, which — coupled with the album’s perpetually sunny trajectory — does tend to wane on one’s ears when played straight through. Even with all of Prairie’s sweet peons to love, there are times where a grounding sense of gravitas is missing, which is why tracks like “My Aren’t You Small” and “Downtown” fail to make much of an impression given the Technicolor highlights they’re surrounded by.
During the end of closer “Walrus & Rigby”, however, the band locks into an incredible, highly melodic (and repetitive) groove, no doubt excited by their discovery (which is doubly amazing given how frantic and unfocused the track starts out). When Prairie then rips out his electric guitar to throw some wild rock-guitar noodling over the whole thing, a sense of true pop euphoria is achieved, one that is meant to be heard live in bars, with groups of friends, or to be played as the last song of the band’s live encore (preferably with some sort of confetti dropping down). It’s a fantastic way to close Silly Lecture Series, which brims with the confidence of a group that’s ready to break through the big leagues. Although The Hoot Hoots have been at this for years, one can’t help but feel that their unique brand of joyous guitar rock is something sorely needed in a landscape filled with Eurodisco and too-serious indie rock. The Hoots may certainly sound like the odd ones out in our current pop climate, but that’s probably because they’re the ones having the most fun…