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I had heard a few older Hoarsebox tracks in the past year, namely "Blind or Deaf" and the brilliant "Doncore" so I knew that they were good, quite professional-sounding and talented. On CD at least. I wanted to know what they were like live.
They were better.
And I was hooked.
Talking to one of the band the next day, I honestly admitted that I was having trouble categorising them, and he replied that this was a fairly comon reaction. Hoarsebox play music that falls into a whole host of different categories and genres and, often, this is all in the one song. From the opening song ("All I need now") it was obvious that this was a band that paid a hell of a lot of attention to the arrangements they were playing. Picture this: Jason Timberlake in 'Sinorita' mode, singing an old ska-based 'Police' song like 'Message in a botlte', with backing vocals arranged by someone familiar with the early days of 'The Beatles'. It seems that with Hoarsebox, the vocals, and in particular the backing vocals (maybe that should be 'supporting vocals', because they are certainly not just backing vocals), are as important to the band and their sound as any if the instruments are. With most bands you can pick out the lead singer and with Hoarsebox you could say that they guy on keyboards is the nominee for that role because, well, he stood up to sing once or twice. Having said that, on some of the tracks he's just one of the crowd. On "Do it to the letter", the lead singer actually seems to take second place in terms of importance to everyone else, merely setting the stage for the chorus and the drummers "d-da, d-da, d-doo, d-doo" (OK, you try write a better way of capturing it!) actually seems to replace the instruments in creating the riff that the rest of the track sits on top of.
As an example of their vocal gymnastics take "Best Intentions". This song has the most individual arrangement of any song that I have heard in a long time. Perhaps ever. I simply can't do it justice in a review. Get it yourself and have a good, long listen to the acapella vocal towards the end. All four band members take turns to sing. Nothing unusual there. What was unusual was that they took alternate turns to sing individual words each in the same line. In fact, I think that even in some cases, individual syllables are sung by more than one person. I commented to the person I was with that if I had seen this technique in a video I would swear it was a synchronisation trick. Even listening to it after seeing it, I am still amazed at the amount of practise that it must have taken to perfect this - for the sake of a few lines. And that, I suppose, is what makes an Act like Hoarsebox stand out fom the hundreds of run of the mill bands who think that talent is all they need. Hoarsebox have talent, they have unique material that should sell bucketloads of albums, but they so obviously still work hard to perfect it rather than waiting for somereality TV show to come along and make fame easy for them.
Later in the set, "Pain got too much" threw me right back to Bad Manners, The Beat, The Selector, The Specials and all the best that 80's Ska/Pop had to offer. Maybe these guys are old enough to remember the 80's but I doubt that very much. More likely that some enlightened grown-up introduced them to the relevant masters from their own record collection. Whatever happened, Hoarsebox do Ska, at times, in such a way that The Ordinary Boys can only dream about. While the lyric "Crying in the bathroom" coupled with the riff behind it might be too close to "Mirror in the bathroom" from 'The Beat', this is no reason to criticise the band because the rest of the track more than holds it's own. The guitar riff running from the start of the song puts me in mind, for some bizarre reason, of background action-music from the Batman soundtrack (the old Batman TV show, not the movies).
During the set there were times when I thought I was listening to Ska, to funk, to Blues, to some 1920's/1960's hybrid. At times, I thought Republic of Loose were up on stage as well. At times I thought Jamiriquai were up there. The range and diversity of the music offered by Hoarsebox needs to be seen (or heard) to be believed. In theory, you could put them in the same category as Jamiriquai and Republic of Loose, if there is an actual category. However, given that one of the songs was like listening to Jay Kay singing "Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" while a honky-tonk or jazz backing band had a jamming session in the background, it would be far too simplistic to categorise Hoarsebox, much as it is too simplistic to categorise Republic of Loose in one single category. Again, given that one of the songs had a real Ska/Funk fusion (should that be 'Skunk', then?) I am left asking "Why bother"?
Instead, get along to see Hoarsebox live and judge for yourself. In the meantime, go to www.myspace.com/hoarsebox and download some excellent new (and free) material for your iPod. I did.
The band tells me they are currently recording twelve tracks (some favourites and some new) for a potential Album release in the near future. It won't surprise me one bit if this International "Hoarsebox" sound turns out to be the hip Album to have in your collection next year.
|Review written by: Ron, IrishUnsigned -- firstname.lastname@example.org|