- Mother Nature
- Serial Killer
- Fight or Flight
I came across Knoxville synth-rock band Hudson K four years ago when their third album “Ouroboros and The Black Dove” brought them across the Smokies to Asheville for a show. I had read about it in the local freekly and attended to my considerable enjoyment. I bought their CD and can’t imagine why I did not review the show or album at the time. I did not see the band in any other shows, but ran across listings for at least two afterward, to my chagrin. In late May, I received an email from the mailing list I had signed up for touting a Pledge Music campaign for album number four, the eponymous “Hudson K.” There were only two days to go and the totals sat somewhere between 50-60% if memory serves correctly. In the final day, I pledged for a CD since I had liked this band a lot, and wanted to hear their next move. The CD arrived on Tuesday and paints an exciting picture of where the band had moved to in the intervening four years.The band is still singer/synth player Christina Horn with Nate Barrett on drums and backing vocals, but the program of eclectic dance pop with remnants of Ms. Horn’s cabaret roots [piano still had cone currency then] have been superseded by a turn towards a more elaborate and rewarding art rock direction. In keeping with that direction, there are four tracks here with guitar added for a movement closer to rock from the dance pop of the last album. “Wild” was a great calling card for the album that followed. Synth bass and drums gave it a slow buildup before the lead synths eventually joined in with the slow, slinking groove. By the song’s midpoint, the vocoders kicked in and when the tune reached its climax, which consisted on the repeated lyrical phrase “animals defending our pride,” the tempo kicked into high gear, only to plateau and revert to its earlier form for the coda.
Ms. Horn gives the songs a controlled power with her singing. She reminds me of a Johnette Napolitano who forsook booze, booze, [and maybe more booze] for voice and composition lessons instead. She has that earthy tone of Napolitano’s but does much more impressive things with it. “Gravity” was a unique song sung from the perspective of gravity personified. It tied in with the abstract, primal theme of this album, which examines the multiplicity of natural forces which bear on us all. It makes for an intellectually stimulating album that, importantly, focuses this intellectualism through a visceral, emotional lens, and wraps it all up in provocative art rock that still keeps the brainstem stimulated.
By the third number, “Origin,” I was thinking to myself, this reminds me of prime Peter Gabriel material, ca. ’82. Maybe it was drummer Nate Barrett’s almost subliminal chanted BVs, that sounded not unlike those that Gabriel overdubbed all over his fourth album. Certainly, the percussive complexity that Barrett offered on the number also kept it close to the Gabriel vibe. The fact that the core synth/drum duo of Horn and Barrett were abetted here with some welcome guitar injections on four of these tracks also pushed their boat further out into the seas of rock from the shores of dance pop from whence they last recorded.
Five or six listen in and I’m hooked. This album was a big leap forward from the last album, which I certainly enjoyed, but it’s not ultimately as coherent or accomplished as this self-titled volume was. All of the songs fit together here sonically [and thematically] like fingers in a glove. It’s all the more impressive when this was also the first self-produced album for the band. The zesty arrangements blend a wide variety of synth attacks with the real drums of Mr. Barrett; a huge plus in my book. One of the big drawbacks for me of the 80s were how drums were abused. On one hand there was a drive to make acoustic drums as sterile as possible and on the other hand there were too many digital drum machines with no swing at all. Here the vibe is more honest and direct and it probably helps that the music is reaching beyond pop into more studied territory.
Now that Hudson K have flirted with guitars [successfully], I think the next big step they might consider would be finding their own Tony Levin. When considering what a strongly compelling bassist could bring into this band my mind reels. Oh yeah, it’s definitely closer to rock, but with the fascinating songs and performances on this album, it could really take it up to the next level by bridging the gap between the band’s drum and synth lines. Their campaign store has 18 days left if you’d like to purchase DL/vinyl/CD of this fine album, click the banner above.
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