The expert staff of Antiques Roadshow would be greatly improved by the addition of Chris Adams to its roster. The vocalist and co-programmer of the Leeds, England-based quartet Hood (with brother Richard Adams and an ever-rotating crew of friends and collaborators) has an eagle eye when it comes to scouring flea markets and yard sales for discarded musical instruments and obsolete electronics. That Adams considers himself a purveyor of forgotten musical instruments of yore comes as no surprise — the number of electronic-music producers who hoard vintage instruments and synthesizers is assuredly great. Yet his fascination with these treasures (an old Casio SK-1 is Adams' prize piece) has a rather different focus, one that is markedly clearer in Hood's latest full-length release, Outside Closer (Domino, 2005).
Outside Closer still exhibits the dark, haunting, low-key aesthetic established by the band during nearly 15 years of making music together, yet there's significantly less of the icy, clinical detachment and desolate beauty that characterized 2001's Cold House (Aesthetics). “On Cold House, we were always fighting to make these ridiculous electronic ideas into songs,” Adams admits. “We approached [Outside Closer] from totally the reverse angle. I had in mind that the song would be first or foremost, and anything quirky or experimental would be shoved on afterwards. I think that was almost in a way more difficult. When you have something purely electronic or sort of abstract, it's almost easier to bring it back the other way, lay some vocals on it and try to make it more catchy.”
Much of the album was recorded in Adams' home; he kept a computer and a mixing desk in his bedroom and hooked up a separate recording space in the basement below. “The more I record at home, the more I realize if I want to get a nice organ sound or something, if I use a plug-in, it just kind of sounds like everyone else's sound,” he says. “And if I mic it up and record it down a hallway, it just sounds loads better.”
Much of the album comes directly from Adams' homemade demos and recordings via a circuitous route of studio editing, adjusting and tweaking before stripping everything back down to the original version; much of the synthetic crunch and digital processing stems from simple vocal snippets. “When you do really weird things with voices, it kind of pricks people's ears up,” Adams says. “Every time I get a new piece of equipment, new effects or whatever, I spend the whole time putting voices to it first, seeing what it can sound like.”
The album's intro, for instance, comprises bits of vocals scattered and rearranged on a sequencer, then run through a granular effect. “I'm a big fan of mapping samples out into the smallest constituent parts and then randomly playing them to see what melodies occur,” Adams notes. Such samples found their way to the bottom end courtesy of sound engineer Choque Hosein, who crafted the loose, resonant bass of “The Lost You.” “[Hosein] is a big reggae fan, basically, so he's always getting really fat, warm sounds,” Adams continues. “We just filtered it down on the sampler and took the vocal off, then boosted the bottom end to warm it all up. It's the sample filtered down so low, it's just rumbling away.”
The melody bits were a bit trickier, however. Using an Audio-Technica AT4040 mic, Adams recorded the vocals at home, being careful to avoid piecing all of the best takes together. “I think it's quite dangerous because you lose that feeling of a performance,” he cautions. “You're taking these almost-perfect performances and putting them together. The feeling's not flowing onwards from the last thing you've said. There's just something a bit lost in there. We scrapped [new takes] to go back to the old ones; we just felt that the old takes were more real, more heartfelt.”
In essence, that is what Hood is trying to achieve — something closer to the acoustic, the organic and the sincere — or, in other words, a move toward the traditional verse-chorus-verse pop songwriting. “I think people make electronic music in a different way now, as a shorthand way of doing things, especially with the advent of computer programs that can very well emulate synthesizers,” Adams says. “I get very sick of hearing very flat, one-dimensional-sounding music; it depresses me terribly. You've got to get a good melody, basically. That's the crux of it.”