Hope of the States
few years ago, Hope of the States looked very much poised to be your new favourite band. Or, at least, my new favourite band. Detractors said that they were just aping the sound of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai and taking out the challenging elements, but that wasn’t it at all. They were trying to pack all of the same power and ambition into shorter songs with rousing choruses and succeeding far more often than not. Their live shows were particularly extraordinary: six uniformed figures, flailing in front of a backdrop of apocalyptic visuals, constantly fighting against a chaos that threatened to take over at any moment. The debut album, The Lost Riots, couldn’t completely capture the experience but came tantalisingly close.
All this background is necessary to explain why it hurts so much that their second album Left is so average. It’s not hard to see why: apparently they wanted the record to sound like “Joy Division gone disco.” They’ve succeeded in that respect, but have become barely distinguishable from the crowd of bands already doing the same thing. Indeed, if The Rakes came out with Left… well, you’d probably wonder when and why they’d acquired a vocalist with such a startlingly abrasive and ill-suited yowl. From Hope of the States, it simply sounds like a half-hearted capitulation to commercial pressures.
Hints of their previous sky-scraping ambition are reduced to tiny decorations on determinedly earthbound songs. Their anthemic choruses and constant implorations to hope and hold on seem trite and impersonal without the total, desperate, commitment of The Lost Riots. Mike Siddell’s previously searing and uneasy violin contributions have been replaced by the saccharine and unremarkable. The most striking moment is found on “Little Silver Birds,” when almost all of the carefully built up, layered music behind Sam Herlihy drops out for a few seconds before swooping back in a joyful barrage of shattering noise. Too bad it’s a dead ringer for Lost’s “Goodhorsehymn.”
There are at least a couple of signs of, ahem, hope. “Industry,” “Four,” and especially “Blood Meridian” are dense and guitar filled, driven by a cynicism so extreme that it would be comical if it didn’t seem so believable. There is about half an hour of genuinely surprising and experimental music on offer too, though tellingly it’s hidden away as an afterthought on a bonus DVD. This adds up to enough evidence to convince that Hope of the States haven’t completely given themselves up to mediocrity yet, but they’re well on their way.
Reviewed by: Iain Forrester
Reviewed on: 2006-07-06