Hoops - Routines

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2017-05-05

Hoops, hailing from Indiana, released their eponymous debut EP in 2016 to critical acclaim. Their highly anticipated follow-up album, Routines, is almost, but not quite, an amazing piece of indie pop. Quite a few things go right, but enough things go wrong, or at least sideways, to derail its strengths and emphasize some weaknesses.

The songwriting itself is consistently delightful. Lead track 'Sun's Out' is a nostalgic, swirling number that compels me to close my eyes and sway from side to side in its melodic waves. Second track 'Rules' is fun and upbeat, and the soft yet jangling guitar work points directly at The Smiths, as does the immediate, punchy brevity. Honestly, it's just about perfect, up to and including the little flourish at its conclusion, which makes most of what follows fairly disappointing.

After knocking it out of the park, the band settles into its more typical style: dreamy, shoegaze meanderings that feel like they're stuffed inside a sack of cotton balls. The primary issue here is that the music feels trapped behind a gauzy barricade that sucks the lifeblood out of the sounds. It reminds me of a well prepared meal that's a bit too bland. It needs some acidity to give it brightness and make the flavors pop. That brightness shines through in some of the songs, but for a guitar-heavy album such as this, there's too much of a chillwave haze; the music sometimes sounds really muted or smeared, like a really great band is playing in the next room over. There are notable similarities to Neon Indian and Washed Out in the vocalizations and production.
 
Good examples of this problem are instrumental track 'Benjals', which has some fine guitar work but feels flattened out, like the physical medium it was recorded on was previously used, even damaged, and 'Worry', which even lays in some saxophone but gets overpowered by a fuzzy miasma that clouds everything up. 'On Letting Go' has sweet keys and guitars, and delicate percussion, but the vocals are a little too nasally and clash with the smoothness everywhere else. 'All My Life' is a decent little tune with more solid guitar work that's marred by some weird pitch-bending in the melody.
 
Luckily, other songs push past these problems to make the album as a whole worthwhile. 'Burden' does a fine job of mixing flowing melodies and perky percussion, and has an extremely catchy vocal hook in the chorus. 'The Way Luv Is' floats and bounces around, adding a fun stair-stepping melody in the chorus. 'On Top' is another super tight song where all the pieces come together: layered guitars, firm bass, intriguing drums, and dreamy vocals.

This album is good, but feels like it could have been so much better. Some of the songs rank among the best I've heard this year. I just wish the sound was cleaner, so the great melodies could shine even more than they already do. I see the set as something of a tease, as opportunity lost. And the audio gimmicks wear out their welcome in spots. But I'd still recommend it.

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