Hope of the States - Left

When I first started reading up on this group, warning buzzers went off. Hope of the States have one of those phrase-band names (and one of those cutesy acronyms, “HOTS”) that sound eerily similar to groups such as Fall Out Boy, Saves the Day, and Taking Back Sunday - all bands which I despise. Dread began to build that HOTS might be yet another whiney emo band hidden under a gauzy layer of generic modern rock. Just look at their promo picture: six hipster lads, long stringy hair, asymmetrical haircuts, too- tight pants, SCARVES. All of them… in SCARVES. (And yes, if you're wondering, I chose a slightly more flattering picture to post on this website.) Ok. I took a deep breath, mentally prepared myself for impending schlockiness, and gave their album a spin.

Man, was I in for a surprise! This was Supergrass meets Oasis mixed with a dollop of epic drama and a heaping spoonful of moody politicizing. Whispering strings here, tinny glockenspiel there, why even an entire Russian men’s choir made an appearance. Though I was impressed upon first listen, and thrilled to have successfully avoided emo clichés and schlocky rocking, I do have a few qualms with the album. Though it is, for the most part, sincere, original, and catchy, the band occasionally leans toward familiar verse-chorus-verse tactics in an effort to appeal as many people as possible. HOTS are relatively unknown in the states, but have found a strong following thanks to the strength of their independently released debut, The Lost Riots. As a result, they signed to Sony/ BMG, and released their last EP as well as Left with major label backing. Perhaps Sony told them to be a little less Godspeed You Black Emperor! and a little more Interpol/ Coldplay. In any case, Left hits the target far more often than it misses, and is certainly worth a listen.

Remember my issues with bands with phrase names? Perhaps I was too quick to judge. Closer inspection revealed that Hope of the States were actually named for Albert Deutsch’s novel, The Shame of the States, a critique on the abysmal state of the US mental health system in the 40’s. The well-read sextet seem fond of naming things after books, as a number of tracks from both The Lost Riots and Left make mention of politically-charged print media.

“Blood Meridian,” the title track off of last year’s EP, is named for a novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, which explores the violent nature of man and examines war as a form of religion. In the song, “Blood Meridian,” lead singer Sam Herlihy opines, “Emergency! Emergency! Someone meant every word he said. Beat him up, lock him up, throw away the key. Never let it happen again.” Part political diatribe, part homage to McCarthy’s exploration of man, the driving melodic rock that frames the song belies its serious intent.

On a slightly more lighthearted note, there’s “Four,” a tale of fantasy rebellion against the powers that be. It’s a rock-n-roll proletariat in action, and it’s sounds suspiciously like something Supergrass might have come up with. It’s also one of my favorite tracks on the album.

“The Church Choir,” another ear-catching track, is a bittersweet ballad dedicated to the passing of life, and the somber songs sung in churches (funerals). It’s an homage perhaps to the band’s loss of original guitarist, James Lawrence, who committed suicide shortly after the band finished recording The Lost Riots. To achieve the haunting quality of the track, parts of “The Church Choir” and “The Good Fight” were recorded in a cathedral in Prague with a fifteen person Russian choir. None of the members of the choir spoke English, so lyrics had to be translated phonetically into the Russian alphabet. Though the choir merely serves as an ethereal backdrop in “The Church Choir,” it’s a prominent fixture in “The Good Fight,” proudly announcing a march to battle.

Hope of the States are not a subtle band. They are proud to hit you over the head with commentary on life, death, and politics, though they prefer to cloak their messages in pretty pop and melodic rock. At their best, they provide interesting insight and catchy hooks, and at their worst they fall prey to modern rock clichés and annoying political posturing. For the most part, however, their romanticism and call to rebellion is more endearing than off-putting. In fact, they seem to make the greatest impact without saying a word. Just listen to the crescendoing strings on “The Good Fight” and the instrumental beauty of “Seconds,” which is set to the rhythm of a human heartbeat, and you’ll understand.

--Courtney Wachs

Release Date: June 27, 2006

Hope of the States Website







 

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