“Due to an unmanageable abundance of music, a diminishing amount of free time, and shorter attention spans, the new approach to selling records is to remind listeners of records they probably would have liked had they heard them the first time they were released.”
~ Joel Hanson
Guest contributors David Agasi, Joel Hanson (of Memory Drawings), and band member Richard Adams share their reflections on the anniversary of Hood’s 2001 landmark post-rock work Cold House—an album that combined “a classic alternative rock sound with cutting edge electronica and West Coast hip-hop.”
Cold House in 2001
Cold House was probably my first introduction to Hood’s music, released in the autumn of 2001, immediately following Y2K hysteria and the attack on the World Trade Center. I had just visited Japan and was planning to relocate there with my girlfriend, Tomoko. We both had temporary living accommodations in Berkeley, CA and were attempting to live out some final hedonistic scenarios only possible in California before our impending international flight.
KALX FM was playing the first track of Cold House as Shawn and I were traveling up University Avenue at twilight in his tiny, ancient Toyota pickup, and in that flash of aural recognition, it was inevitable I’d be collecting Hood’s entire discography soon enough. The manic, sampled patchwork of “They Removed All Trace That Anything Had Ever Happened Here” seemed to specifically call attention to the ironic flimsiness of current world events at that time, events which, 20 years later, have more or less nailed the coffin shut for all of us.
Cold House in 2021
Gradual change can be devastating, but as so many of us know, stasis is its own royal flush. If the fauna of Radiohead’s Kid A (released in October 2000) made a sizeable impression ushering in the new millennium, think of all that had transpired globally, by November 2001 within the flora of Hood’s Cold House: a map of what constant fractionalized post-9/11 existence sounds like over time and distance while citing numerous ways in which we’ve tried (and failed) to cheat them both.
Cold House is the sound of memory refracted in the absurdity of maintaining mental composure in an era that’s had other diabolical methods in store for us. The hacked-to-pieces, glitched, twilight-soaked, autumnal landscape-soundtracks that make up the album’s ten tracks contain a stark and experimental poignancy where, two decades later, our collective anxiety already feels feeble, outdated and mostly unchanging. Today, the record has never sounded more tellingly vital.
What’s so stunning about the sonic content of Cold House is how the band keep such a vibrant, tousled edge throughout, as if it were a personal diary entry on a train traveling between unknown cities that one is no longer allowed to visit. Though we vaguely remember having lived in all of them once, lostness is our inevitable destination. And it’s all so beautiful, being swept up in the polluted pink pastoral post-industrial sky of it all.
Cold House in 2001 (actually, 2002)
Due to an unmanageable abundance of music, a diminishing amount of free time, and shorter attention spans, the new approach to selling records is to remind listeners of records they probably would have liked had they heard them the first time they were released. I cite the first reason to explain why Hood was a very late discovery for me. I didn’t hear Cold House until August of 2002—nearly nine months after it was released. At that time, I had just returned from teaching abroad in Shanghai and was living with my brother and his wife on Vashon Island outside of Seattle. I was also fortunate enough to write for a music magazine called Resonance that prided itself on exposing readers to overlooked or underappreciated bands—and even then Hood’s Cold House was an almost accidental discovery. I remember the editor of Resonance had sent out a list of 75-80 records he thought could be potentially reviewed in the magazine along with a one- to two-sentence description of their sonic contours. I don’t remember what he wrote about Hood, but his pithy description persuaded me to select it among the three records I reviewed for the mid-fall issue of Resonance.
Imagine my disappointment when I received a CDR copy with the record title handwritten on a CD sticker and an insert with song titles and basic contact info that was printed with a dot-matrix printer. Why the austere, slipshod packaging? The CD burn was atrocious—and it left me with the conviction that the label, ironically named Aesthetics, was blithely unconcerned about the listener’s first impression of the band. I wasn’t sure if the pops and clips on the CD were supposed to be there until I finally bought a proper copy of the record years later—the one that Aesthetics should have provided me with the first time—but I wrote the review as though those imperfections in the CD-burning process were an intentional part of the listening experience.
What was an even bigger surprise, was how the beauty of the music—particularly the first three tracks—bore no resemblance to the shitty packaging and merged rather seamlessly with what became another blustery, bone-chilling, rain-soaked Seattle winter. While most of my friends complained of seasonal affective disorder, listening to Cold House on the ferry every evening left me feeling comforted—and elated, especially when I would take my bike off the ferry, and ride the final hilly nine miles to my brother’s home at dusk, experiencing an emotion that was—and still is—far more difficult to conjure amid the spirit-killing grind of daily existence: gratitude. Even then, I recognized that the album’s ultimate triumph was its ability to transform one’s assessment of any prosaic environment by ineffably inspiring the listener to pay greater attention to it, noticing details and discovering a subtle splendor that would be overlooked—or much harder to see—without the music accompanying it. Think of it as sonic conduit for an enhanced visual and emotional experience.
I am also certain that I wouldn’t have ever met Richard—much less made music with him—if I hadn’t heard Cold House at that time and place.
Cold House in 2021
Nineteen years later, my assessment of the music is almost the same as when I first experienced Cold House. I do find myself listening to the first half more than the second half, but these 10 tracks can still transform any landscape, especially if you listen during a long, solitary stroll in autumn just after sunset in a place where the leaves change color, fall to the ground, and audibly crunch under your feet once they have died and dried. However, despite appreciating the voice-as-another-instrument quality to Chris Adams’ voice, what I notice now is something I overlooked then: the poetic beauty of his lyrics, particularly on “You Show No Emotion at All.”
But your voice was full of hope
Like it was on better days
On clear mornings
When the rain had left the sky
I also realize that the lyrical observations of Why? and Dose One (from the hip-hop trio Clouddead) at least the ones I can decipher on “Branches Bare”) have crystalized into unexpectedly poignant aphorisms (for example, “Sometimes the sunset doesn’t want to be photographed”) and have remained with me since the moment I first heard them two decades ago. Then and now, the combination of vocalists and traditionally conflicting vocal styles over the moody marriage of electronic and acoustic instrumentation is also what makes Cold House so unique. It might also explain why Hood has such devoted followers (who continue to lament the band’s denouement every time an old release is reissued) twenty years after the band’s penultimate release. May the 20th anniversary of Cold House strike a new generation of listeners just as profoundly and permanently.
Cold House Then
Relief. We’d already mixed the album once and it wasn’t quite right. It needed fixing so it was mixed again under the auspices of Leeds-based dub expert Choque Hosein. We learnt so much from him about how to make things sound good… little production touches and all-night work to tighten up performances that made all the difference. So once done and delivered we awaited the inevitable silence that greeted its release. To our amazement, it became one of those records that seemed to get favourable reviews everywhere. The sort of thing that when it happens to other bands, I’d get all jealous and inwardly seething proclaiming to no-one in particular that it is not as good as everyone says it is… then five years later, realising I was wrong.
We weren’t exactly sure what it was we’d done right. The album did seem to fit the time and place; it was November, it was raining hard and 9/11 had just happened. The world seemed a bit frightened and maybe the paranoia of parts of the album and the general feeling of hopelessness fitted the mood. I don’t know. We didn’t try to think too hard about it as we had to then go out and play shows. I think we went to Germany in early December of that year and you know how Christmas usually goes on and on? Well, being away from the UK we missed the beginning slab of it, so when we got back all the Christmas lights were up and everything was twinkling and for once Christmas seemed exciting. It was my first Christmas as a married man and with an album doing well, it was a lovely, happy time for me. Little did I know what would follow.
Cold House Now
Consistent. The album stays in a certain mood from beginning to end and that is maybe one of the reasons it is often seen as our best album. I had some long drives with work recently and I was feeling very anxious about life in general. Probably the worst thing to do would be to play a miserable album I was once involved in, but I wanted to remember the happy creative time when we made it and to remind myself that some parts of my life haven’t been an unmitigated catastrophe. It was a sunny day, but Cold House immediately transported me into the bleak back streets of Leeds in damp November in the early 2000s. I could almost smell the house I lived in and I shivered at the unheated rooms I had to attempt to sleep in before wrapping up warm each day, ready to get lashed by the relentless rain on the sopping trudge to work. It’s not an album to cheer anyone up, but it is like stepping into another world and it takes you on a journey… It’s kind of otherworldly and listening again I stayed in that mood for the entire day until it was time for me to go and wipe another elderly person’s arse. It made me sad about what we had and what we lost, but I’m also happy to not be in that place again… to have to rely on the whims of the music industry and understanding employers in order to scrape a living. Imagine what it would be like now? This kind of music is certainly not built for Spotify-and-skip listening habits of today. Still, Cold House is a little monochrome postcard of what can be achieved with serendipity, inspiration and ridiculously obsessive tinkering, which helps make things come together in a way that, you only realise later, happens only once in a lifetime.
David Agasi’s five questions for Richard
1. Do you feel that today’s more publicized anxieties have made their way into the crafting of the musical underground in a profoundly different way than during the period when Cold House was recorded some twenty years ago?
(Richard) It’s all “heart on sleeve” these days. One of my (many) jobs is to do product descriptions for new vinyl records for an online site and if I could have a pound for every press release that states that the artist is exploring their mental health, or that an album is the result of a breakup or a death, I’d have twice as much money than I actually earn. It’s all “open” and explained now, whereas we didn’t particularly tell people what we were writing about. For me it’s up to the listener: they decide what the songs are about, as it’s all about what they take from it. It might have absolutely nothing to do with the original intention of the song. But that’s fine.
2. How important is album artwork in the 21st century where most images are now the size of postage stamps, viewed primarily on screens?
(Richard) I think only the vinyl revival is making artwork still have any meaning. What a difference it is seeing your image on a proper record. Nothing can ever have the same effect on screen as it does if you are holding it. There are some preposterous album images out there. It’s worse than the ’90s. I’m not sure how much thought people put in for the reasons you have outlined, but for us it is as vital as it ever was.
3. What sort of person constitutes the best listener of your music in the current “downloadable” world we all share now?
(Richard) I have no idea. Probably someone that will take the time to sit down with a record and really get inside it. I’m not sure our music would work for the Spotify-and-skip generation… the albums are whole pieces and many songs don’t work as well as one-off entities. I think we’d really struggle if we were still making music now. People wouldn’t have time for it. Maybe I’m underestimating listeners… I hope so.
4. Given the drastic differences in recording techniques since the creation of Cold House, if you had to re-make the entire album from scratch this year, what would your directives be?
(Richard) That’s a very interesting question. My directive would be to not get fixated in staring at the screen. It’s too easy to make music by sight rather than ear these days as you are constantly looking at blocks of sound. I’d remind ourselves about the benefits of real playing and real instruments and not just rely on plug ins and programming. I’d ban phones and other devices from the studio!
5. Has the internet brought people together? Or is that simply a marketing mythology to aid us in licking our current spiritual wounds, generating capital for certain individuals, etc.?
(Richard) I can’t decide on this. On one hand, it means you know there are like-minded people out there and it does good in collectively fighting down hate and calling out the lies perpetuated by the government—and the mainstream media. On the other hand, the outlet of being able to tweet out say “Tories or Shit” or “Trump is a Dick” satiates the anger in people. We should already be rioting here in the UK, but anger fizzles out online. The government has proved useless at everything they’ve done but keep getting elected, as people underestimate the real feeling and get swept along in social media echo chambers.
Also, it makes people famous for just being ridiculous. Any of us could go onto Twitter and say something controversial. People like Piers Morgan make a career out of it and so many people get drawn into it. Again, the actual real problems are ignored or put to one side as people quench their anger by shouting at Piers Morgan. It’s a confusing time and I really don’t know how it is going to change.
Joel Hanson’s five questions for Richard
1. What record do you listen to when you want to hear your own music? Has it changed over time? What do you get from the experience of listening to your own music?
(Richard) I sometimes get the urge. Perhaps when feeling nostalgic or whatever. Sometimes I’ll need to listen because of re-issues or something happening with one of them. There’s no real set album I go to…maybe there’s parts of albums I like—certain songs—but overall there’s always something I’d like to change. My reaction varies from “I can’t believe we did that!” to “I can’t believe we did that (aaarggghhh).”
2. With two decades of hindsight, are there any sonic or compositional changes that you would make to Cold House if you could? If so, what are they?
(Richard) Not really. I think it’s stood up better than our other albums in terms of not at any point having any really terrible decisions in terms of sequencing or mixing. No particular wrong song choices, either. Chris would probably want to redo all the vocals, but that’s not for me to judge!
3. Was there a specific moment in the making of the record when you knew you had something special? Or that you were excited by? Or proud of? How about now, 20 years after it was released?
(Richard) We knew we had something at the mixing stage, but it just wasn’t quite happening. I think when producer Choque Hosein got involved, it started to sound more like what we heard in our heads, and he pushed us further into sorting the boring end of production out (tightening up drums and bass lines, etc.). Probably for me, the final track “You’re Worth The Whole World,” stands out. The way Dose & Why’s vocals work with the track, what we’ll call the “PM Dawn” bit half way through, but mainly Chris bringing his voice in at the end. A really inspired touch. When I listen, I hear really tiny things no one would notice, like Choque fading back in the guitars midway through “You Show No Emotion at All.” It just made that part of the track work, where previously it was a mess. I am totally aware that this will mean nothing to most people, but it’s just these small victories that I notice when hearing the record for the umpteenth time.
4. How long did it take to make Cold House? What was the first song you finished? And the last one? How did you determine the song order? What were your regular days jobs at that time?
(Richard) You know, I can’t remember. I’d definitely count it in years. We’d done some earlier recording, which was scrapped, and I think we were working on the Home Is Where It Hurts stuff around the same time. It was just lots of recording both at home and in the studio. Because it was scattershot, with bits being added to different tracks in different sessions, it’s not easy to say, but I think it was mixed in order. I think I was working part time for Norman Records—the nearest I’d ever come to doing music full time. The others tended to have jobs at the Leeds Metropolitan University: the temporary, part-time jobs available there at the time meant that institution pretty much funded Leeds musical activities for a while.
5. How were you able to get Dose One and Why? involved?
(Richard) They contacted us! One day Chris woke up to a massive package of the cLOUDDEAD 10-inches at his doorstep. We loved them and of course, being utterly self-absorbed, the first thing we thought was: “How do we get these guys on our record?” As simple as that. We were always massive fans of hip-hop and their music was the first time we saw a true link to what we were doing. Luckily, they were excited by the idea and pretty much did what we were hoping they’d do… and more.
Richard Adams continues his trek through the music world with his post-Hood project, The Declining Winter, launched back in 2008. Hs most recent release was a 7-inch single that came out last week, and features the more ambient-electronic “The Definition Glance”, backed with the aptly titled “Autumn Hours”–which acts as fitting theme music for a rainy November afternoon.
Two albums have emerged in the past few years from another of Richard’s sonic alter-egos, Western Edges, diving even deeper into the electronic ambient field. Each release lays down a foundation of hypnotic beats over which Adams stretches layer after layer of atmospherics that waver between light and dark tones. Look for those on the Sound In Silence label, including the recent Dependency, released in July of 2021.
~ Ryan Anderson