Album Review: Hollow by Cut Off Your Hands

If an eighties band had a sensitive, slightly flat baritone singer (and which ones didn't?), you'll hear their influences percolating up throughout this album.

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 05, 2011

As someone old enough to have experienced the music of the eighties firsthand - and feeling at the time that it was like receiving radio transmissions from the future - I remain to this day a sucker for the New New Wave movement that started early last decade with Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Bloc Party and the like and shows no sign of petering out.

After immersing myself in Hollow, the charming new album by eighties-oriented New Zealand indie rockers Cut Off Your Hands, I'm ready to play Name That Reference!

But before we get started, I want to make sure you understand I enjoyed the heck out of this album, in much the same way that I enjoyed the heck out of The Breakfast Club when I re-watched it a few months ago.

I guess I'm finally old enough to get nostalgic about things that remind me of my childhood (and thank you, Vinyl 95.3, for redefining "oldies" to include Billy Idol, Prince and Madonna), and Hollow lit up those old neural pathways like Oliver Sacks on a tear.

Right off the bat, the opening drumbeat of "You Should Do Better", with a heavily palm-muted guitar chopping around the snare, recalls the iconic intro to "Modern Love" by David Bowie.

Then Michael Ramirez' jangly Johnny Marr guitar playing kicks in and you realize you're actually listening to a Smiths song. This is reinforced by vocalist Nick Johnson, who sounds just enough like Morrissey on this track to make you wonder why the lyrics aren't more melancholy.

Then the song transitions into the chorus and you realize you were wrong again: you're actually listening to "Major Tom" by Pete Schilling.

With "Nausea", the second track on Hollow, the guitar lick still jangles, but less like The Smiths' "This Charming Man" and more like The Cure's "Friday I'm In Love". Yet as the song progresses it comes to resemble Echo and the Bunnymen - an influence that comes roaring back two tracks later on the "Lips Like Sugar"-esque "Hollowed Out".

The unsettling synth intro to "By Your Side" runs just long enough to get you thinking about "Plainsong" by The Cure, and then the song kicks in and surprises the ear by sounding more like "Man on the Moon" by REM - with a little "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction thrown in for good measure.

On "All It Takes", we find Johnson appropriating the vocal stylings of New Order's Bernard Sumner, while the song follows the well-traveled I-IV chord progression that New Order used to such good effect in songs like "Love Vigilantes", "Age of Consent" and "Ceremony".

In "Buried", the compelling closing track, Johnson's plaintive, off-key singing even recalls a young Red House Painters-era Mark Kozalek.

It goes on throughout the album. Icicle Works, Modern English, Psychedelic Furs, James - if an eighties band had a sensitive, slightly flat baritone singer, you'll hear their influences percolating up throughout this album.

As an aside, a word about the production values: after the decade-long auditory affront that is Auto-Tune, it was deeply refreshing to hear a singer actually allowed to drift off-key. Likewise, the mastering largely bows out of the unwinnable arms race that is the Loudness War and instead presents the ear with a nice mix that has actual loud and quiet bits.

Now comes the part of the review where I'm supposed to criticize the band for wearing their influences too openly and encourage them to develop their own coherent sound instead of playing musical chameleon, so let's just assume I did it and move on to the inevitable conclusion: you don't need to tread any new ground to make enjoyable music.

Hollow comes out August 16, 2011 on Frenchkiss Records.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By arienc (registered) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 15:04:40

Great album, went out on a limb and bought it on your rec as I love all of those influences you listed. Thanks for posting this! A lot of echoes of UK's Doves in there too.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 15:10:02

Sounds just like my cup o' tea! Sweet review, thanks Ryan. I'll have to look for that album.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2011 at 22:53:55

Thanks for the review. Some people get very upset when new bands borrow heavily from their influences, but I rather enjoy it. Colin Meloy of The Decemberists opens some of his songs cimematically like his heroe Morrissey, and with musical arrangements that the Smiths almost certainly would have loved I agree with the statement that you don't necessarily have to break new ground. Arcade Fire's Suburban War definitely sounds like early Springsteen, and it is certainly a great track regardless. It's hard not to listen to Stars, and not hear the male-female dialogue of the Beautiful South come through, albeit with meatier rhythms. Take a listen to Memphis, which is a side project for Stars' Torq Campbell. The track "Incredibly drunk on Whiskey" might be the best song the Housemartins never wrote. Although the indie band Voxtrot have a couple of Euro-Martin sounding tracks that you wouldn't expect from a group of kids from Austin, Texas.

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