Hidden Hospitals

Surface Tension

Written by: TL on 05/08/2015 12:19:18

Hidden Hospitals is, apart from simply a truly great band name, the new band of former Damiera frontman David Raymond. The Chicago group has quietly been building momentum with two EPs from 2011 and 2012, working since then towards the release of this year's debut album "Surface Tension" and what a debut it is. It should probably be disclaimed right away that Hidden Hospitals are not easily aligned with any similar band, carrying a refreshing uniqueness in their expression, yet they themselves have suggested a mid-point between "Diamond Eyes"-era Deftones and "Kid A"-era Radiohead as a good place to start imagining what they sound like. Listening to "Surface Tension" however, you can just as easily think of Thrice, Oceansize or Moving Mountains. The band explores a rich and cinematic post-rock-ish soundscape, where the sound of distorted rock guitars weaves in and out of tastefully applied electronic touches.

Opener "Pulp" pries your ears open right away, starting suddenly, as if you've come in to a song that was already playing, quickly setting up a hypnotic movement with softly played guitar, softly sung vocals and a lively drum pattern, which repeats yet grows with each introduction of new noises in the background, taking a melodious leap only to later make way for some crunchy chords to break through. "Rose Hips" follows with a guitar wailing against gentle ambiance before Raymond comes in with subdued vocals that sound Dustin Kensrue-inspired indeed, while the oppressive bass feedback that opens "Modern Saints" brings to mind the picturesque soundscapes of My Epic.

For much of "Surface Tension", the title fits the music well, as Hidden Hospitals are at their very best when their swirling, captivating verses simply lifts you and carries you off into the band's universe, yet there's release to go with the tension as well, most notably on the stellar "Wounded Sirens", which instantly sets an anthemic tempo and then delivers fully with a soaring refrain that is immediately carved into the part of your brain that makes you sing melodies slavishly for days. There is much more to be heard on "Surface Tension" however, and one of the more unusual things that make the experience special is how Hidden Hospitals play with the listener's sense of space. Take another highlight like "Animals": The song starts off sounding like you might be alone with Raymond singing to you over a lit match in a broom closet, but when the song opens up and lays on the reverb, you're thrown out into a vast space, as if the closet collapsed and the sky and landscape suddenly started rolling off from your feet towards the horizon. Furthermore, fans of the avalanche-like guitar parts of bands like Moving Mountains or even Denmark's VOLA, will find something to love for instance in the eruption at the end of "Trilogy". And then there's the djenty bass pattern that comes in beneath a ringing guitar later in "Synesthesia". Just another brilliant detail and another piece of "Surface Tension" 's eclectic puzzle.

Retaining a critical perspective, there are a few moments where Hidden Hospital's briefly lose control of their enchantment, hinting that the band's expression is still only in a debut album state. These are outnumbered by well-functioning captivating movements however, and in fact, the only strong point of criticism against the album is that the parts where Raymond has to sing with most power do not quite hold up to the quality level of everything else on offer. Damiera fans will remember Raymond as a high-pitched, screechy singer, and to his credit, his softer singing on here is partly why "Surface Tension" sounds so unique, but on a song like "Bone Scraper" for instance, where he mainly croons at the top of his lungs, he gets squeaky in a way that feels a bit weak considering the band's otherwise powerful sound.

That being noted, let it be emphasized that this review lacks the words and the space to recount all the reasons why "Surface Tension" is an exciting and rewarding listen from front to back. It's one of those records you hear and you immediately know that it's unlike almost anything else in the music scene, and then when you've had it on a few times, each song on the tracklist will greet you welcome with another part where you think "Wow, wait, this part is ALSO cool!". In short, this is a fantastic new band and one of the great surprise albums of 2015. Miss out on it at your own peril.

Download: Wounded Sirens, Surface Tension, From Toxin
For The Fans Of: Thrice, Oceansize, Moving Mountains, Agent Fresco
Listen: facebook.com/hiddenhospitals

Release date 24.03.2015

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