Gauntlet Hair – Stills

written by: July 11, 2013
Album-art-for-Stills-by-Gauntlet-Hair Release Date: July 16, 2013


Chicago duo Gauntlet Hair is back on the scene with Stills, the follow-up to 2011’s self-titled debut. This time, members Andy Rauworth and Craig Nice have infused the band’s signature noise pop with a more tangible layer of New Wave influences, though the music still has a modern edge.

Stills opens with the beautifully weird single, “Human Nature.” With minimal, hypnotic vocals and an anthemic blend of floating keyboard notes and ultra-catchy drums, “Human Nature” is uplifting, but with a melancholy tinge. It’s an expertly crafted track; the mesmerizing swirl of noise ebbs in an out, and forceful drum beats always kick in at just the right moment—a trick pulled from pulsing club music. Just as Gauntlet Hair intended, it’s music to get lost in.

Unfortunately, “Human Nature” is the high point of Stills. The following tracks are equally layered and complex, but there’s simply no comparison.

Gauntlet Hair seems to rely too heavily on its catchy drum and synth beats to carry the album’s pace. Each track features an irresistible rhythmic backbone and an intricate melody (if you can call a glorious cesspool of notes and abstract sounds a melody) of keyboard and guitar, but the vocals are usually lumbering along at a snail’s pace. Sometimes, this works beautifully—in fact, each song individually isn’t hindered by it—but it inevitably brings a sense of monotony and drags the album down.

The combination of fast and slow, catchy and weird, can be seen as a tactical move—a way for Gauntlet Hair to remain accessible while creating its own style—but it has a ring of indecision. Stills’ best moments come from the intensity of undistilled oddness when the duo seems to be making exactly the sounds it wants to make.

Despite the tendency to layer a slow melody over quick beats, no two songs are the same, and Stills boasts several single-worthy tracks, like “Bad Apple” and “Waste Your Art.” The latter blasts forcefully through the speakers with intense, crunchy instrumentals.  “Obey Me” is just over a minute and a half of drugged-out bliss.

Throughout Stills, Gauntlet Hair shows off the versatility of its sound. With the basic ingredients of polished keys, thrumming bass, and a distinct lo-fi crackle, the duo manages to craft a plethora of unexpected melodies. The openings of “Spew” and “Simple” particularly exemplify just how far the band’s style can wander, and even within each of those tracks, the sound doesn’t stay the same for long. Gauntlet Hair is constantly shifting, constantly experimenting.

The hard-rocking “Heave” brings out the best Gauntlet Hair’s sound and boasts some of the richest moments on Stills. The effects-laden guitar is reminiscent of The Cure, but a hint of ‘90s grunge can be found in Andy Rauworth’s snarling vocals. Listening to “Heave” is basically like getting slapped in the face by the hand of righteous lo-fi noise.

Individually, almost every song on Stills is worthy of attention, but more work could go toward the album’s flow; as a whole, it tends to drag. Nonetheless, Gauntlet Hair is a group to listen to, and more importantly, a group to party with.

Gauntlet Hair – Stills tracklist:

  1. “Human Nature”
  2. “Spew”
  3. “Simple”
  4. “Bad Apple”
  5. “New To It”
  6. “Obey Me”
  7. “Heave”
  8. “G.I.D.”
  9. “Falling Out”
  10. “Waste Your Art”