Out Hud S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D.

[Kranky; 2002]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: post rock, electro, indie rock, neo disco, new wave revival
Others: Tortoise, U.N.K.L.E., One Speed Bike, RJD2, Lali Puna

“The Eighties are coming back, you know.”  Every few months or so it seems I’m hearing this from one person or another, for the umpteenth time. Yeah, the Eighties will always be “coming back,” but to the rumor mill’s credit, the past year and a half has demonstrated that there is enough Eighties energy in existence to be effectively channeled into the postpunk, new wave, and disco “revival,” which has been underway recently in the world of indie rock. Out Hud’s first proper studio LP is very much in keeping with the Eighties revival currently taking place. Released on Kranky Records, S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. is a very different sort of album than the records in the Kranky catalogue to which we’re accustomed. This is no Labradford-esque, gloomy post rock record. This is a different brand of post rock altogether: old school, feel-good-all-over dance music, with a post rock edge and a new wave sensibility.

Out Hud ably capture the new wave aesthetic embraced by early 80s bands like A Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, and ABC: danceable rhythms and funk basslines, irresistible hooks and melodies, and choppy, postpunk guitar riffage. Drum machines, intricate programming, and über-processed percussion form the rhythmic foundation for Out Hud’s music, and bass player Nic Offer’s style is definitely of the Peter Hook/Simon Gallup/Simon Raymonde, bass-at-pelvic-level school of new wave bass playing.  S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. has been garnering rave reviews in the music press, and the buzz on Out Hud is that they put on a mean live show; really getting things moving on stage.  S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D., understandably, is an extremely upbeat and very loud affair””loud in the literal sense, but also loud in the sense that there is just a lot going on in the music. It’s a veritable cacophony here. At certain points on the album, the drum[machine]s are mixed so loudly that sound distorted. Like good dance music, S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. makes you nod your head and move your ass; but unfortunately, like dance music, there is an ephemeral element to the proceedings that invites the listener to forget about the music once it’s no longer playing. The record’s complete lack of vocals perhaps contributes to the transient nature of the album. Groups who perform primarily instrumental music must put forth an extraordinary amount of effort engage the listener. Out Hud are a reasonably engaging act, but their music is also easily forgotten. It rocks, but we’ve heard it before.

S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D.’s first track, “Story of the Whole Thing,” begins with a Tortoise-like, squeaky-clean polished beat, and some chorused post rock electric guitar strumming. For comparison’s sake, Lali Puna’s “Contratempo” came to mind when I first heard this track. Actually: it’s a propulsively driving track that sounds something along the lines of a cross between Tortoise and The Cure (only without the vocals). The track gradually changes pace, however, when the drums become more upbeat, and the bass takes on some low-end, dubby undertones. 

I have to admit, I found the titles of Out Hud’s tracks both clever and hilarious. My personal favorite is the title of the second one: “Dad, There’s a Little Phrase Called Too Much Information.” In fact, as the piece began, my speakers sounded as if they had been blown as a result of an unnatural amount of sound being pushed through them. The distorted drums then morph into an 80s-style house beat. Interesting tempo changes ensue, and a head-nodding bass groove insinuates itself into the track, keeping the pace moving. Like a lot of early Eighties new wave, there’s a slightly eerie edge to this track as well””a result of the song’s icy, inorganic-sounding keyboard backdrop.

By the third and fourth tracks, cellist Molly Schinct’s playing begins to assume a more prominent position in the music. The third track, “This Bum’s Paid,” is a slower piece which contains some more distorted drum effects that sound downright trippy on headphones””a trippiness which is augmented by the numerous mathy tempo changes which occur during this track. The cello becomes noticeable in the background, and guitarist Tyler Pope strums out some beautiful, shimmering, Cure-like guitar chords.

The remaining tracks, unfortunately, mostly follow the same formula as the first few, although track five, “The L Train is a Swell Train…”, adds a bit of welcome variety to the mix: bongo-like percussion, delayed new wave guitar picking, and a Kraftwerk-esque electronic keyboard melody meandering around in the background. The track, at over twelve minutes in length, is an electro track of epic proportions; gradually undergoing a number of tempo changes as well. It is very upbeat, featuring a distinctive, early Eighties sound, with loads of pop-inflected, electronic new wave/disco melodies gradually weaving their way in and out of the listener’s consciousness. A beautiful cello solo and a smattering of Fender Rhodes appear toward the end of the track. Offer’s bass playing is in particularly new wave form on this track as well. Finally, some straightforward acoustic guitar strumming enters the mix, as the drums and bass disappear, and the song ends on an uncommonly acoustic note…just in time for “‘My Two Nads’ (Dad Reprise)”””the very electro-dance-sounding final track. Bongos again appear, along with ambient, Tangerine Dream-like keyboards.

So the question is begged: Why did I give S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. a 6.7 rating? Is the record good? Yes.  Is it interesting?  More or less. Is it completely original and creative, sounding like nothing I’ve ever heard before? No. A recurrent problem I seem to have these days is an inability to stumble across music the likes of which I’ve never heard before. Out Hud are good at what they do, but they are also heavily derivative””not derivative to the point where the music is by any means painful to listen to, but enough to ultimately render the music unoriginal and trite. Further, the band demonstrates a marked lack of variety from track to track; S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. contains six tracks, and they all, more or less, sound quite similar. The record is consistent to a fault, and a little more variety might have added to the album’s longevity. The record sounded great at the time, but nothing about it embedded itself firmly in my head. Even after a couple of listens, once I took the headphones off, it was on to something else.

1. Story of the Whole Thing
2. Dad, There's a Little Phrase Called Too Much Information
3. This Bum's Paid
4. Hair Dude, You're Stepping on My Mystique
5. The L Train is a Swell Train and I Don't Want to Hear You Indies Complain
6. "My Two Nads" (Dad Reprise)