May 2, 2013

Review: It Hugs Back | Recommended Record

With little fanfare -- at least here in America -- Kent, England-based It Hugs Back has been steadily building a formidable catalog of records and singles over the last several years. Its latest long-player, Recommended Record, is a lush, engaging and often aurally stunning marvel that gives the foursome a strong claim on a place in the vanguard of contemporary psych-pop. The set is roughly split into motorik groovers ("Sometimes") and gentle strummers that cushion persistently breathy vocals ("Teenage Drone"), although there are exciting moments that don't fit neatly into either pile, such as the blaring freakout "Big Sighs." That the music on Recommended Record runs the stylistic gamut with such ease is a tribute to the highly-developed and tasteful songwriting of the group, songwriting that evidences a keen ability to synthesize elements from a well-chosen stylistic palette.

The set commences with the charged, propulsive and kaleidoscopic rush of "Sa Sa Sa Sails," a sugary rocker that drips with the same sort of shuddering, guitar-heavy psychedelia as the best moments of the early Mercury Rev catalog. Even with the level of bombast high on the track, It Hugs Back guitarist and singer Matt Simms, who also plays guitar for post-punk legends WIRE these days, continues to sing with his characteristically dreamy, even delivery. From there the collection makes the first of many tidy transitions, here to the hip-shaking, organ-addled preview track "Go Magic!," which cleverly contrasts megaphoned lead vocals with pretty, terraced vocal harmonies and closes with wondrous, clanging guitars. The logically titled "Piano Drone" channels German legends Neu!, and the spooky "Sometimes" channels The Flaming Lips channeling Neu!, but Recommended Record also touts plenty of the catchy guitar pop -- in the vein of the Pitchfork-acknowledged 2009 single "Workday" -- that It Hugs Back is best known for. These include album highlight "Teenage Hands," as well as "Skateboard Rhythm," and the poignant, burbling "Waiting Room." That latter tune touts a subdued melody with swirled rhythm guitar that could have been inspired, perhaps improbably, by the introduction to Grateful Dead's "Crazy Fingers." While all of these reference points suggests a record that sounds scattershot and disjointed, in fact just the opposite is true, and -- as ever -- It Hugs Back succeeds by setting its own parameters in creating a warm, fuzzy and insular aesthetic.

Recommended Record will be issued on Safe And Sound Records worldwide on Monday and you can purchase it on CD or vinyl directly from It Hugs Back right here. All purchases are rewarded with an immediate digital download of the collection, and the first 100 pre-orders come packaged with a bonus EP. We've embedded a stream of the entire album below. It Hugs Back's prior record, the sophomore set Laughing Party, was released a year ago. We featured It Hugs Back in number 12 of our recently resuscitated Show Us Yours feature back in 2009.

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