REVIEW: Road Trip Through Musical Possibilities With Hounds and ‘Cattle in the Sky’


Indie band Hounds released their album Cattle in the Sky on February 5th from BMG, following on from 2017’s collection, Anything At All, but they seem to have covered a great deal of creative ground between albums as well as solidifying some of their guiding lights will be, musically speaking.  There’s something of the bubbling excitement of very early Rock ‘n Roll in Hounds’ lead single from Cattle in the Sky “Shake Me Up.” The title might remind you of a famous Stones track, “Start Me Up,” but that equation of addressing someone and acknowledging their effect on you was replicated over and over again with great impact by the Beatles in their matching suits days. It felt like undiscovered country to speak so openly and so earnestly about feelings, much less thoughts in those songs like “Love Me Do” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” It felt incendiary and game-changing, but only created a bigger and bigger sense of momentum in music.

Capturing the energy of early Rock in more layered modern form isn’t all Hounds do, it’s just something that they do particularly well. When they choose to take that same ear for richness and energy to psychedelia, we end up with one of the biggest surprises of Cattle in the Sky, “Three Hits of Acid.” The song’s lyrics aren’t exclusively psychedelic, rather reflecting on a relationship gone awry and the ambiguities that brings, but the song structure takes us inside a specific world, fishbowl-like, contemplative, that does have an early 70s vibe, albeit closely melded with a driving Pop roll-out. 

Both “Shake Me Up” and “Three Hits of Acid” have gotten video treatment from the band so far. The first wears its muses on its sleeve with Wes Anderson colors, an almost Beatles’ HELP! vibe, and straight-faced humor that’s infectious, all with action taking place in front a fixed camera. The latter gets an outrageously psych approach, leaning into that title and chorus, with lava-lamp like backgrounds, distorted effects, and a constant reminder that we’re talking about an interior state of being. It’s an interesting contract where the framing device of the song becomes the visual framing device of the video, but it also does suggest even more vibrantly the dayglo and alien experiences love can prompt as much artificial chemicals.

The album Cattle in the Sky, whose title is very insider to the band (apparently deriving from a road trip game competing for the hotel best beds along the way), and whose cover art is as nicely mid-century as it is ambiguous in meaning, is very wide-ranging in terms of sound and theme. That seems to be an increasing trend in indie music that many artists find freeing. Related to that, Hounds seem to take this record on its own road trip, a tour of possibilities, where nothing is off the table in terms of musical traditions. 

This band seems fairly obsessed with authenticity and keeping things real, and there’s no hint that they’ll pretend to have invented the wheel with their music. Rather we get the sense that they’ve spent time combing through the nuts and bolts of past musical directions and have cleverly repurposed and refurbished certain elements to combine them, often in unpredictable ways. “Long Way Down” has a beat that wouldn’t be out of place in Rockabilly or Soul, but brings in Surfy harmonies and an attitude that could be translated as 80s Pop. “Blue” moves from a crooner intro into a rocker with riffs that could easily be built up into Metal but keeps to the original script with a dreamy feel. 

If there’s one thing that pulls the record together in very obvious ways, it’s the confidence behind the musical approaches on display, but a close second is actually how carefully crafted these songs are. They may have trademark elements of a live sound to them, however understated that may be, but it’s a sound that’s been pared down, considered, sifted and finalized with specific intentions, track by track. If you’re wondering “Who are Hounds?”, this album is far more than an introduction. It doesn’t stand on ceremony but lets you right into the party, which you’ll find is already in full-swing.


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