The house is on fire and you've only got enough time to grab one record.

You've been exiled to a deserted island and can only bring one record.

You own over a 1000 records and a friend asks which is your favourite.

Fortunately, I've never been faced with the first two scenarios, but the latter has happened enough that I'd think i'd have an answer by now. Well chalk it up as a personal failure I guess. See, I don't expect to ever have a "final answer" to that question - sorry Regis. What I do have though is a story to tell. One that anyone whose record collection has grown to proportions that make their friends ask "Why?" will surely be able to relate to.

I've liked listening to music for longer than I care to remember and in a way I'm fortunate that when I was younger I never had enough money to go out and buy all the records I liked - moving at the end of the month is going to be bad enough as it is. I lived through the glory days of AM radio, the hard rock years, and the dawn of disco.I witnessed the new wave era, the two tone revival (which led to a stint where I listened to nothing but ska and reggae and wanted to grow dreads!), and ran in circles at more than my share of punk rock shows. In high school it was punk rock, rap (I actually listened to "rapper's delite" and the first Run-DMC album when they came out. I still don't know how that happened), and something called speed metal that this band Metallica used to be good at. Punk + rap + metal. Jesus, if that combination doesn't look like the makings for something horrible. Oh wait I think it's on the radio right now...

By the time college took over my life I felt like I had a pretty diverse musical background with a definite slant towards the lesser known sounds. Mtv had ceased to be good about 5 minutes after showing the Talking Heads video for "Once in a Lifetime" and it was clear that Black Sabbath, Bad Religion, and NWA were really all I needed. Oh, and there was something called "indie" that my friend Ben played on his radio show at UC San Diego. To me most of it sounded like "punk-lite".

So college ends and I find myself back with good old Mom and Dad trying to figure out what to do next. Another year goes by..I get a job...ahh, how about some record shopping!

Just as with lots of other bits of info in my brain that I don't know how they got there, somehow I knew there was a store called Mod Lang in the quaint college town of Berkeley, California. My friend Hu probably had a role in me knowing that, as he was the first person I knew who had explored this "indie" thing quite a bit (He's also the bastard that got me listening to jungle and he should probably help me move all those bloody import singles that have taken over my room!) so into Mod Lang I step and I'm greeted by this guy named Mike.

It just so happened that Mike ran (and still does) this little label called Slumberland Records and his knowledge of music far surpassed (and still does) anything that mine did. Now maybe he handed me this record because he had a definite financial interest in me buying it or maybe he could tell that this was an album that was going to change my musical taste and open me (and my wallet) up to a whole new area of music. Whatever his reasoning, there's no way in hell I'd ever fault him for charging me $6.98 for a copy of HOOD's "Cabled Linear Traction".

I can't even begin to describe how much this album affected me, but that's not going to stop me from trying.

Hood had the uncanny ability to "sabotage" a perfectly good pop song in ways I had never heard before while still creating a perfectly good pop song. I knew feedback and distortion and all their friends and I had heard other bands incorporate those sounds into their music. In general though, these bands tended to get caught up in the noise too much and their "songs" lost their shape and fell apart leaving me none too impressed. So hearing how Hood layered these sounds on top of what was already a very good pop background was...well, quite a wonderful thing.

Hood comes to us from Leeds, England which is also the home of the Wedding Present and Boyracer (I've always thought that would be a great triple-bill but it never happened). The band has had a number of people come and go over the past 7 years, but the core has always been Richard and Craig Adams. When I interviewed Hood for the zine "Zum", Craig told me that none of the original band members had any previous musical experience other than listening to music obsessively for quite some time; Disco Inferno, Talk Talk, Smiths, Pavement, REM, Insides, Movietone, Third Eye Foundation, Field Mice, and Autechre being sited as influences on the Hood sound.

When I talked to Craig about "Cabled Linear Traction"I was curious to find out how they recorded the songs - all the little noises seem to be just in the right place. His response, "In the early days we didn't really know what we were doing so a lot of the stuff was accidental which to me often leads to the most creative stuff anyway."

The opening track "Norfolk" comes at you with a mess of noise that drops off as quickly as it starts to be replaced by acoustic guitar, some frantic drumming, and distinctly British sounding male and female vocals. There's a sombreness to the vocals that isn't fully explained by the lyrics.Feedback squelches find their way in here and there, but are never the focal point. "Evening Return" sounds like Boyracer on an overcast day trying to reassure themselves that things will be ok, but knowing that things will "crack". All the while, the dynamics of the music mirroring the tension in the lyrics. The album as a whole has this strange tension to it - the lyrics carrying this sombre tone but never quite giving in to whatever it is that afflicts the singer nor telling us exactly what's wrong. the music moving from slow, "pastoral", gentle tones to feedback infused, almost punk outbursts and back again with an amazing ease. I think walking to the market to get a loaf of bread could sound utterly desperate in the world of Hood and while we will never know why, somehow we'd have a sense of understanding.

In "Summers last annual" the singer walks by the house of someone I can only guess is an ex-lover, much as Bobby Wratten walked up to "Emma's house" - the similarities end there. whereas Bobby sulks away in that way only he can, the Hood kids creep up to the window, they listen, and they feel violent. We aren't told why, we're just left to formulate our own theories. Mine involve a certain ex, a phone call, and...the tension, the sombreness, and the violence, none of which are explained.

Ah yes, "Mystery Pop". I think I first read that term and the now often used descriptor "pastoral" in reviews of Hood's work. And I can't argue with either of those terms, though I couldn't give a proper definition of them. And in the end, that's what I found so amazing about this album some 6 or so years ago and that's why I can still listen to it now. The lyrics are vague enough that you can make them fit your current situation, whatever that may be. The pop structures aren't confined to a certain time or style. Listening to this album today doesn't feel like a "flashback session" (try listening to Slowdive or Ride or Superchunk or the Dead Kennedys or...those bands have a distinct time they belong too that they just can't escape). And then there are the noises that sabotage the songs and add that tension that most of us can never escape in our lives. It's always there, gnawing at our insides, giving us reason to doubt everything. and that's why we carry on.

Now,I should probably let you know that if I did have to choose a single Hood album to listen to it would be their second LP "Silent 88". This album contains all of the aspects that make "Cabled Linear Traction" so great, but It also gives a bit of glimpse into some of the future Hood (and Hood related) sounds: the more etheral, minimal, "pastoral" sound that has dominated their past two albums - "Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys" and "the Cycle of Days and Seasons" - and the experimental drum'n'bass / electronic sounds that have been further explored in the Hood side projects Downpour, the Famous Boyfriend, and the Remote Viewer.

So why didn't I write this about "Silent 88"? Well, while I think that is my favourite Hood album, "Cabled Linear Traction" did far more in shaping my musical taste and that's why it will always be one of my favorite albums. And since I'm being honest, someone who worked at Mod Lang (most probably Mike) deserves quite a bit of credit too! See, on the plastic sleeve the record came in was written the following description: "Amazing FSA meets Bark Psychosis/Disco Inferno mystery pop"

Uh-oh
slippery
slope ahead
------------>
my money and I
have been happily
sliding on down that
nice slope for quite some
time now....wooooooohoooooooo

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