Last summer, when I was mowing my yard in the midst of a southern heatwave, I slapped on my iPod and cranked up my vinyl-ripped copy of The Hospitals’ self-released album, Hairdryer Peace. Because the mower itself made such a racket, the album was one of the few that I could hear above the noisy din of the mower's blades spinning endlessly to spew forth green shards. Make no mistake, Hairdryer Peace is not an album that cuddles up to you at night, so it appropriately served as the perfect soundtrack in the harsh and often hallucinogenic sun of a Tennessee July. When you’re nearly dehydrated, most anything can sound strange to your ears.
Hours later, when I had finished my work and retired to the cool, air conditioned indoors, I already wanted to hear Hairdryer Peace again. Something about the album did not immediately click with me. I kept wondering if I was hearing a garage rock LP that had been taken apart and cobbled together or a noise album that just barely hung together through song fragments. I was eager to decode the damn thing, wavering back and forth between total love and absolute hate. Did the songs get in the way of the noise, or did the noise get in the way of the songs?
A year later, The Hospitals have re-released the album on CD (via Meds) -- which, according to the group, "sounds better than the record, like what we wanted it to sound like" -- and I've come to the realization that what they've accomplished is brilliance along the same line of reasoning that had borne albums like Fennesz's Endless Summer and Royal Trux's Twin Infinitives. Hairdryer Peace exists at a nexus occupied by few albums, where it becomes difficult to label it using genre tags and even more difficult to pinpoint its antecedents. Although many groups now operate using the lowest fidelity recordings possible -- enabling idiots to concoct terms like “shitgaze” or “new lo-fi” to describe music that is essentially skuzzy garage rock with heaps of tape noise -- The Hospitals used actual noise on top of and inside these songs.
After you hear the title track's opening strains, a voice sounds from within a wall of white static and you might barely make out a lyric that sounds like “I can’t swim." Then, halfway through the song, a blaring riff marches itself out from under the blanket of drift before the noise consumes it once again. What ensues is a game of cut-and-chase between hazy ambience and threads of actual songform. Here, at the last few seconds of the piece, is when you get a good idea that there was indeed a fully formed, digestible, pop/rock song playing from the beginning. “Getting Out of Bed” even somewhat reimagines the kind of Jesus and Mary Chain theatrics circa Psychocandy of surf song and feedback racket, but in reverse: rather than using noise to decorate what are essentially pop songs, The Hospitals use pop songs to decorate the noise.
The album continues in similar fashion. Perhaps it’s “Rules For Being Alive” that got me really disoriented while I was being sun poisoned outside. It seems harmless enough with its seesawing acoustic guitars, but eventually it comes undone in a tangled mess of gnarly guitar twang and high-pitched skree. “Ape Lost” begins with all of the dread usually associated with the Wolf Eyes/Hair Police crew, but it loses it halfway in to throw a temper tantrum instead. Both “Animals Act Natural” and “Sour Hawaii” drown whatever chance of a melody they have amid gargantuan, warped guitars and woozy speaker rumble. When the album finally comes to a close with the appropriately titled “Don’t Die,” it blares out a warning to all others as it lumbers off into the distance.
Prior to this album, some of the members of The Hospitals left to form Eat Skull. In a way, some of that band’s music sounds like parts (albeit far removed) of Hairdryer Peace. But other than a few touchstones mentioned already, I feel like I’m grasping at straws to reduce what’s going on here to words that just can’t describe it. Maybe there’s something almost Trout Mask Replica-esque about the way that these tracks are just barely even songs and not just loose noise jams. Either way, Hairdryer Peace is another excellent record that deserves every bit of praise that it’s received so far and any accolades that come to it in the future with this CD release. Nearly a year after my initial exposure to it, I think I’m finally beginning to understand it.
1. Hairdryer Peace
2. Getting out of Bed
3. Rules for Being Alive
4. Ape Lost
5. This Walls
6. Sour Hawaii
7. Smeared Thinking
9. Animals Act Natural
10. Me, A Ceiling Fan
12. Dream Damage
13. Scan the Floor for Food
14. Don’t Die