Review Summary: With their debut, Hooverphonic have crafted a solid, coherent but varied trip-hop album, providing the base for their future sound.
Hooverphonic is band with a turbulent history and a varied discography. Throughout its history, the band has had five different vocalists and experimented in the trip-hop, ambient, pop, indie, alt rock and psychedelic genres. However, the core of the band’s sound was largely established in the early years of its existence. Hooverphonic was founded in 1995 as Hoover (this name was quickly changed due to legal issues) around producer/programmer/self-proclaimed genius Alex Callier. The subject of this review is their debut, A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular, a solid offering of trip-hop, which was still a rather new genre at the time.
The album kicks off with "Inhaler", probably also the best song on it. Mellow beats, subtle guitar playing and excellent vocals are tied together with various electronically generated sounds to yield a warm, fuzzy song. The next song, "2 Wicky", is built on top of a sample from Burt Bacharach
’s "Walk On By" (performed by Ike Hayes, who also performed the sample on which Portishead
’s "Gory Box" is based). Were "Inhaler" is warm, "2 Wicky" is ice-cold: you better be sure before you leave me for another one/you can hurt me/I can hurt you
, as the vocals go, and spacy (emphasized by the video clip). The rest of the album is composed using the same basic ingredients as the first two songs, but they all have something giving them their own identity, like "Wardrope’s" samba beats. All the common elements make the album flow nicely, so that even weaker songs like Cinderella don’t disturb the overall experience.
But the clear highlight are the vocals. Liesje Sadonius already was Hooverphonic’s second
vocalist (the first, Esther Lybeert, only performed on some demo’s) but she is also one the best in the history of the band: her soft and sensual vocals are what lifts this album from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’, adding a soul to each song. Liesje’s voice is what makes the songs work, individually, but also by tying the album together as the coherent whole it is. Liesje left after making this album, which is a shame, but it also marks the start of the band’s evolution as this eventually resulted in the addition of Geike Arnaert as new vocalist.
The album has a few weak points: "Cinderella" is a rather boring song and its Spanish parlando eventually becomes a bit annoying. "Sarangi", on the other hand, contains lots of sound effects, but these are quite irritating, rather than interesting and they can’t hide the song itself is not very memorable (although Liesje’s vocals are great as always). All in all, however, most songs are good to great and, more importantly, they work well as a whole.
With their debut Hooverphonic have crafted a solid, coherent but varied album. The band’s sophomore album, Blue Wonder Power Milk, will introduce some additional experimentation and variation to the sound. Combined with the amazing new vocalist Geike Arnaert, this will become Hooverphonic’s defining album, completing its musical palette
. Just remember that Blue Wonder Power Milk is a natural progression from this, their debut.