I’ve often complained to anyone who will listen that the current obsession with memoir and Oprah-style confession is the result of the misguided conviction that self-expression is the highest aspiration of the arts. Hundred Hands, a stripped-down sapling that fell incestuously close to its Appleseed Cast tree, has offered me yet another occasion to kvetch, this time in print.
All the more so because Hundred Hands seems to me not so much a side project (let alone a separate band) as an excuse for Appleseed Cast guitarist Aaron Pillar to take center stage and express himself, while letting AC’s usual frontman Christopher Crisci back him up and giving their producer Ed Rose (whose credits also include the worthy Slowride) a chance to bang the drums. Even more so since Pillar’s backlog of bottled-up emotion seems to be just as monochromatic, whiney and unearned as that poured forth from the Appleseed Cast’s mouthpiece. They’ve even duplicated AC’s penchant for shopworn ocean imagery, probably most in evidence on AC’s Mare Vitalis, emo-core’s answer to Watery, Domestic. I will say that it’s impressive they even had time to work it into a six-song EP, what with all the talk of things being lost and scarred and broken and, oh yeah, washed away.
Ed Rose’s drums are heavy and unimaginative throughout. Even when the mid-tempo lets up for some light acoustic wavelets, it isn’t long before Rose is relentlessly pounding on the snare to let us know these emotions are real. According to this aesthetic logic, constipation is a condition greatly to be valued as an experience rich in authenticity and depth. The vocals, while they don’t sound so much like Crisci’s Sunny Day Real Estate impression, nevertheless adopt the same high, whining tone and mumbling delivery that seems calculated, once again, to impress with its sincerity and emotion. Well, not so much if the lyrics you’re intoning are “Scars on my back. They prove a point. It points to you. And this life. And this world. It’s a tidal wave”. These adolescent lyrics are, by the way, reproduced proudly, not only in the album itself but also on the Deep Elm press kit. I’m all for affect over content, but this time the content’s actually getting in the way. Moral of the story, kids, is it’s not interesting just because you feel it — you have got to do better than intone “driving home from the ocean” over and over in a tragic tone of voice if you want to convince me to feel it too.
The song I like best on the album is the last cut, “Sunday”, possibly because they’ve mercifully spared us the vocals and drums and added some atmospheric keyboard.
Little Eyes kind of reminds me of this guy I dated when I was 18. He had long, greasy hair, a tattoo of a target on the inside of his left elbow, and a taste for Fugazi and the Jesus Lizard and Chesterfield unfiltereds. (“I like the idea of a conscious, slow death”, he said about the cigarettes; I swooned.) It seemed to me then that when we were together things were more intense and meaningful, mostly because they were more theatrical, not because they had any emotional substance. That’s the kind of guy you date in high school but who, if you’re smart by your twenties, you don’t consider boyfriend material…although, if you have been unlucky or unwise enough to attract one of these clunkers, may you soon have the good sense to appear on Oprah and be ritually cleansed of your suffering.