In the same way that chicken soup or macaroni and cheese can sometimes transport someone into a realm of safety and comfort, there too exists music that can give a listener a warm feeling inside. A recent slough of bands championing nostalgic sounds of early ’90s indie rock certainly falls in this category—it’s hard not to smile at Tapes `n Tapes’ first album, for instance. Yet to an even greater degree, someone like Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam can make music that acts like a fuzzy blanket for the ears. Kent, England, foursome It Hugs Back specialize in comfort music, perhaps even intentionally so—their name is It Hugs Back, you know.
Inside Your Guitar, It Hugs Back’s debut full-length album, recalls many indie giants from the early ’90s—Yo La Tengo, Stereolab, Low, My Bloody Valentine, and just about anyone on 4AD, which makes them a perfect fit for the label. Yet unlike a band like MBV, It Hugs Back contains their noise within more approachable structures, never overwhelming despite a prevalence of fuzz. These are easily digestible pop songs, ever so slightly droning, with melodies that stand out above any layers of effects they may pile up. And while each song may be built on familiar structures, they’re nonetheless ones that provoke instant enjoyability and, yes, comfort.
Leadoff track “Q” starts off with soft, muted tones, droning with a melody that wraps the listener in a soothing glow. From this one, simple track, it’s hard not to feel a certain ease with the music, an attachment that’s hard to define, but easy to recognize. From there, It Hugs Back launches into a more upbeat pop tune in “Work Day,” coming across more like The Sea and Cake with jazzy, jangly guitars and vocals resembling those of Sam Prekop. The repetitious buzz of “Don’t Know” is closer to vintage Stereolab, while “Forgotten Song” is softer and breezier, more Brian Wilson than Kevin Shields with its bright chorus punctuated by brilliant keyboards. And with “Back Down,” a bigger, more panoramic guitar rock sound takes over, ever so slightly opening up a sort of heroic approach within the band’s otherwise unassuming, but nonetheless charming and likable sound.
It Hugs Back certainly do what their name promises on Inside Your Guitar. Like a warm plate of mac `n’ cheese, a fuzzy cap or a cup of coffee with an old friend, It Hugs Back make music designed to make people feel good. Not hedonistic, not ecstatic, not sexual or psychedelic, but good, in the most simple and soothing way possible.
Stereolab – Peng!
Yo La Tengo – Painful
The Sea and Cake – Everybody
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.