Sample-based pop, like any other genre, can be made either inventive and exciting or mind-numbingly bland, dependent upon the imagination of the artist wielding said samples. I’ve watched enough polite singer-songwriters with laptops, and I’ve heard enough vanilla indie electro to know that the latter is far more common than it should be. And that’s even ignoring offensively dull artists like Owl City. But the best electronic-based pop outfits use their sample banks as tools for innovation or, barring that, aural stimulation. Frankly, either application is fine with me, though Glasgow’s Hassle Hound is just the type of group to inject some much-needed life into lap-pop, creating a swirling fun house of melody and whimsy on second album Born In A Night.
Showcasing a fascinating and often quite fun array of ambient layers, sonic stimuli and melodic mischief, Born In A Night connects the dots between Tunng’s graceful synth-folk and Fog’s early oddball experiments. The album’s first track, “Oropendula” juxtaposes a Spaghetti western whistle, sci-fi bleeps, a one-chord guitar strum and reverb-laden vocals that, when combined, make for something almost more eerie than silly. Yet “Metropolitan Tower” takes on a slightly more conventional approach, though one still characterized by quirk and defiance of convention. Metal squeaks and Atari video game sounds adorn a pretty and elegant melody made slightly danceable. Meanwhile “Hit It And Trip Up and Cherub and Sing” marries old-timey ragtime rhythms to click-clacking percussion and a chorus of female voices. However, the factory shuffle of “Everything Turns” would be far more melancholy and desolate, were it not for the recurrent plod.
Born In A Night seems almost bipolar in its movement between cartoonish, off-the-wall sounds and somber, atmospheric melodies. Frankly, if Hassle Hound were a person, I’d be a little worried about his state of being. But as a musical outlet, Born In A Night proves continually fascinating, revealing numerous aspects of their personality frequently in just one song. This is, by all means, a very strange record, but it’s a good strange, and the best kind of confusion music can offer.
Fog – Ether Teeth
Tunng – Good Arrows
The Books – Thought For Food
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.