Review Summary: “I doubt this means that much to anyone. I hope this means something to you.”
The Hoosiers could’ve totally folded in 2011, and no one would’ve had any right to blame them. They’d been chucked away by RCA Records, their newly-titled rerelease of sophomore record The Illusion of Safety
was met with no greater fanfare than its original publication, and their potential as one of the UK’s premier pop acts had lost all momentum. Instead, the group took some time off to recalibrate, established their own independent label, and announced a comeback effort in fall 2013, to be funded in part by fan preorders. Gone were the days of bureaucratic major label woes and in their place came something much more low-key and direct. This change comes through instantly in 2014’s The News from Nowhere
, the Hoosiers’ most mature and most subdued outing yet.
The News from Nowhere
is less immediate than either of its predecessors, to the point that my first listens made me uncertain of the utility in writing a review. I just wasn’t as invested. While The Trick to Life
and The Illusion of Safety
boast hook-laden pop confections from nearly top to bottom, this one takes a bit more time to breathe. If those records were meant for dancefloors, this one is meant for evenings spent on the beach, watching the sun set and listening to the waves flow gently onto the shore. The vibes are totally different, and it’s impressive how the Hoosiers seem to thrive on reinventing their sound. This album is definitely a grower, and its not-so-commercialized feel creates an air of sincerity than their earlier work never quite touches. That’s not to say you’re in for a barebones lo-fi affair, since there’s still plenty of horns, strings, keyboards (courtesy of new addition Sam Swallow), and other bells & whistles sprinkled around. This is merely the sound, perhaps for the first time, of the Hoosiers doing exactly what they want. And that’s precisely why it never quite reaches the overproduced heights of those earlier works.
With its stripped-back DIY production style, The News from Nowhere
marks the first time the Hoosiers actually live up to the “indie rock” label. Thankfully, this doesn’t come at a cost to musical diversity. “Somewhere in the Distance” is an upbeat opener that immediately draws a dividing line from the kooky baroque of Trick to Life
and the polished electropop of Illusion of Safety
with its straight-forward rock-oriented approach. “Make or Break (You Gotta Know)” is just as strong, cementing the album’s laid-back sound and establishing a great vocal dynamic between lead singer Irwin Sparkes and drummer Alan Sharland. Sharland gets a few more opportunities to shine over the course of the record, in fact, a departure from prior works in which his voice was kept mostly to the background. A rightful choice, because the man is clearly talented in his own right. Sparkes sounds more comfortable than ever across the album, rarely jumping out at the listener like he has in the past. His only real chance to shine is the falsetto-heavy “To the Lions”, which still feels like child’s play compared to “Goodbye Mr A” or “Everything Goes Dark”. The closest brush with earlier styles come with “Fidget Brain”, a quirky little pop number that wouldn’t sound too out of place in their slim back catalogue. “Rocket Star”, meanwhile, is a crunchy indie-rocker that best embodies the record’s cool/calm/collected attitude. The album doesn’t come without its left turns either. “Handsome Girls and Pretty Boys” sounds like a modern retooling of something Bowie might’ve come up with in the 70s, its colorful lyrics and swaggering vocals evoking the glam romps that make up Ziggy
and Aladdin Sane
. Whether or not there was any direct inspiration at hand, I'm unequipped to speculate. “News from Nowhere” is a poignant piano-driven track with solemn lyrics worth a second look. While the song is ripe with ambiguity, I can’t help but interpret it as a funeral dirge, mourning the loss of the band’s previously-noted mainstream potential and the futility of making art in such a fickle climate. A superficial and cynical analysis, maybe, but one that makes some sense given the band’s history. Bookending the LP is the minimalistic “Impossible Boy”, which ends things on a pleasant note of atmospheric bliss. The album is rounded out by pensive tracks like “My Last Fight” and “Upset”, the latter of which profits from some of the record’s best bass work.
The bulk of The News from Nowhere
is occupied by exceedingly competent indie rock but rarely anything more. The music never shoots for the stars like you expect from the Hoosiers, which, to be fair, might be a welcome change of pace for those who were more annoyed than enthralled by the incessant theatrics of their past. The songwriting isn’t uninspired or bored, just lacking in the vivacious enthusiasm that was so abundant before. So we’ll split the difference. After all, The News from Nowhere is a solid comeback for the Hoosiers and a testament to their ability to keep making enjoyable, well-crafted tunes without a major-label machine breathing down their necks. Not a glorious rebirth, but a sturdy reaffirmation. Maybe that title track is a funeral dirge for one chapter in the Hoosiers’ career, but listening to the whole record, you’ll believe their future is alive and well.