My first introduction to We All Have Hooks For Hands, a nine-piece hailing from the great state of South Dakota, was when I saw them live in mid-April. I was struck by the psychedelic fun of their music, but also by the absolute mayhem that accompanies many of their arrangements. Fortunately, all the excitement of their live show is captured on their album.
I always find it hard to describe a band like Hooks because they really are so extraordinary and diverse that words can't really do them justice without being too narrow or too vague. Hooks has all the freak-folk earnestness of Neutral Milk Hotel, especially singer Eli Show. Show has a manic, wailing voice that grips your attention right off the bat. It's good in the same way that Jeff Mangum's voice is good: It constantly startles you into listening to every last word on the album.
Musically, Hooks takes everything that is good about Broken Social Scene and Modest Mouse and adds even more mayhem. "Jumpin' Jean-Luc" and "The Teeth That Feeds The Lions" sway drunkenly under the weight of their own instrumentals. That sounds like a bad thing, but it's actually exactly what this album needs. The result of having so many guys in a band playing so many different parts is an album that is constantly pulling and pushing in unified but varying directions, creating this wonderful psychedelic confusion.
Furthering the Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons, Hooks also incorporates horns into their ensemble. I am, by and large, not a fan of having a brass section in a pop band. Maybe it's just the marching band flashbacks talking, but I think horns, especially trumpets, have a tendency to detract from the singer and the rest of the band. Hooks, however, involves them tastefully enough to avoid being overpowering.
I can't decide if the album's length is a flaw or not. While, the songs are so good that you don't want them to end, ultimately I think Hooks have done themselves a big favor in keeping the album under a half hour. There's just so much going on with this record, and so many layers of instrumentals that a longer CD would risk Hooks overload. And besides, The Pretender being a short album leaves no room for filler.
At other times, Hooks plays some really sweet, '60s inspired pop. "Oh I'd Expect" is the prefect song for the perfect weather those of us in Minnesota are currently experiencing. And that kind of highlights what I just love about this album: It's diverse without being disjointed and it's poppy without feeling artificial. The Pretender is a remarkably fun album that harkens back to its influences while still forging ahead creatively.