It’s been three years since Inside Your Guitar, the debut album from Kent shoe-gazing quartet It Hugs Back. After its release, the band members participated in various ventures, but as their webpage reveals, they “began to regroup more regularly” in the summer of 2010. The result of which was Laughing Party.
Such a casual, natural description of the creation process fits this record, which feels like one the band loved making. Nowhere is this more obvious than on opener ‘Big E’, a track which lives up to its name: fifteen minutes of a band having immense fun in the studio with drums and fuzzy guitars, creating a post-rock sound which immerses the listener. As enjoyable as this track is, it does perhaps feel like an exercise in self-indulgence. Lacking any real direction and with only the merest hint of vocals in the last minute it feels repetitive and undeserving of such an expansive time period. ‘Times Square’, which sprawls out over 9 minutes, can equally be seen to lack direction, embodied by the band’s dedication of a whole minute to its sighing diminuendo. But its swaying directionless is precisely what makes ‘Times Square’ so thoroughly lovely.
The patience and restraint on show in the whole of Laughing Party makes it such a beautiful, hazy, summer’s dream of a record. The songs ebb and flow, possessing a warm, dream-like atmosphere which is at its most affecting on ‘Grown Old’, with its whispery vocals and yearning harmonies, and ‘Massachusetts’, an enveloping slow-burner that reaches a subtly overwhelming climax. The band skilfully interrupts this reverie though with angrier, cathartic moments on ‘Sit Tight’ and ‘Never Get Tired’.
However, it’s not just about the sound and atmosphere. Tracks such as ‘Happy’ (which features a wonderful jangly guitar line) ‘Half-American’, and melodic closer ‘All in One Day’ see a refreshing return to a pop sensibility and even, on the latter, some degree of audibility to Matthew Simms’ slight, affectless vocals. It’s a voice which carries little personality, but this is rarely an issue on an album where the music is so rich and emotive. The imperceptibility of Simms’ lyrics does, however, prevent these aspiring pop songs from really succeeding because there’s nothing for the listener to latch onto and really embrace. This is perhaps the main problem this album will face come its release in May.
It’s a record which warms with repeated listens. It is less delicate and more absorbing than its predecessor, but for all its loveliness, Laughing Party is hard to love immediately. It won’t be for listeners who like a chorus, a character or a lyric to connect to, but with its careful balance of drone and melody, restrained emotion and cathartic build-up, Laughing Party is a perfect soundtrack for an afternoon, particularly if it’s one spent staring out train windows.
My first review for Middle Boop magazine! : http://www.middleboopmag.com/music/albums/it-hugs-back-%E2%80%93-laughing-party-4ad