Almost four years ago to this day a little quartet from the Indiana/Kentucky border packed up the touring van and headed west in the longshot odds of being heard at SxSW. What separated Houndmouth from the thousands of other performers for the 2011 festival was that amongst the throng and bustle, the incessant cacophony of so many musicians clamoring for attention, Houndmouth actually got heard.
After signing to Rough Trade as a result of that performance, Houndmouth rushed out their first album, From the Hills Below the City after only four days of recording. Unlike most bands with a discography shorter than the average wait at a DMV, Houndmouth found success. A national audience followed national tours with the Drive By Truckers, Alabama Shakes and a night show performance on syndicated television.
This type of success is rare and often premature. In recent memory only a few groups surface who’ve reached such acclaim in such a short career. There’s the Head and the Heart who’s last album might indeed be their last album, then there’s the Alabama Shakes who are soon to release their follow up effort to Boys and Girls. That old rag about the sophomore slump is in full swing here, and in today’s age where commercial failure is tantamount to traitor does Houndmouth have a hope in hell of retaining the fickle attention of the quickly disinterested indie audience?
The answer is a resounding yes! You might have already heard the lead single “Sedona” on NPR or through Soundcloud and if it’s caught your ear at all you’ll be pleased to know the entirety of Little Neon Limelight album is just as solid. Relying on all the hallmarks that made the group a success before it made them popular Houndmouth have created an interesting, exciting release to prove they’re not just another flash in the craft beer/food tattoos pan.
There’s interesting things happening in music right now for the individual. While Rome burns up with debate about whether the 90’s slacker hero or the hip hop wonderkind’s wanna be girlfriend is more deserving of some meaningless statuette awarded in the name of industry not artistry, there’s pagans dancing out there in the darkness, patiently waiting. The behemoth has grown too large, too ridiculous and people are beginning to turn away from the flash and fizzle, the tired tropes of the rich and successful and are again embracing bands as opposed to brands.
Houndmouth so far has made its name writing narratives centered on the type of low ball characters you’d find in any early McMurtry novel. They’re gritty, fallible people whose ambitions are more immediate than a 401k and whose problems are more severe than the pseudo-intellectual debate of artistic merit. These people are sqaulorous, quite often ugly and under the influence, they are proud and determined. They are individuals, and the truly odd thing is how much they resemble us.
But any author will tell you setting is just as important as style, themes and characters. Little Neon Limelight displays a veritable travelogue of southern interstate towns, finer federally funded institutions and the barren landscapes of the Midwest after the corn has come in and the sea of mud makes you truly understand the draw to suicide. The predilection for landlocked southern pit stops adds a gothic dimension to Little Neon Limelight but as the name of the single would imply there’s a fair dose of big sky country and Western waves.
In the modern day when every song ever recorded is readily available via the internet it’s also nice to see some bands are doing their homework. Music: It’s always been the same hasn’t it? Despite the medium, the ever evolving post production techniques, or the instrumentation we’ve all been singing the same songs throughout history. There’s triumph and despair, and thankfully Little Neon Limelight displays the best of both worlds. Highs and lows alternate like the moods of any bipolar auntie at the family reunion as every member of the quartet exchanges roles. Bassist Zak Appleby might sing to you about his asshole cousin on one track, but on the next he’ll be backing up keyboardist Kate Toupin’s lovesick homily to self-destruction in a sweetly dripping, homespun harmony shared with the rest of the group.
Like some sort of anarchist collective or utopian dream society Houndmouth is part of a growing movement that has every member playing the central role of front man. Gone ye are the days of the pretty faced personality with his backing band, and like the six sigma programs of any company the groups that reduce waste and capitalize on the inherent talents of every member are finding success in an industry that is absolutely cutthroat.
On Little Neon Limelight you’ll find rock bottom blues, angst via underdog guitar oriented rock, you’ll find more than a fair helping of soul. On Little Neon Limelight you’re offered the folk wisdom of those entrenched in the good fight against a broken system, you’ll discover the CGD chord progression of the country songwriter is the freshest thing around, and you’ll catch yourself saying, “Haven’t I heard this before?” Houndmouth is taking old concepts and creating the most immediate music available. From humble beginnings the band is urging you to sing it like you mean it while making it dirty enough to match every desperate longing in that hardened heart of yours.
But you don’t have to believe me. Those are sweet sounds issuing forth from that digital fiddle you got there, Nero. Nevermind the smell of smoke, the fire adds a warm light to the empire. I’ll just be over here in the shadows, you know, on the side that’s winning.