Album Review: Cut Off Your Hands

[Inertia/Speak N Spell]

Buy Hollow

Kiwi four piece Cut Off Your Hands made some real waves with their 2008 debut, You & I, a record of angular, danceable pop steeped in British post-punk but full of its own energy and smarts. Blogs gushed; the NME jumped on the bandwagon. Big things were expected.

Cut Off Your Hands took their time recording the follow up; after getting Suede's Bernard Butler to helm the boards on their debut, the Auckland four piece opted to go it alone and self-produce Hollow, their much awaited sophomore lp.

Hollow, though slight in length at 35 minutes,is worth the wait––a tight, mature batch of wistful pop that marks a clear step forward for the band.

From the outset, Hollow is a different beast to You & I––so much so that when I first put it on, I thought it was a different band. Hollow is a more considered, steady handed lp than its predecessor, the band swapping the fast-paced, youthful post-punk sound of their debut LP for a more ethereal, reflective vibe, drawing on the gloriously hazy jangle pop that burned so brightly in their homeland a couple of decades ago, while toning down the influence of the nervy English post-punk pop so clearly heard on You and I.

The band also tips its hat to British shoe-gaze and 60s psychedelic pop, creating a wonderfully varied album that's sunny in parts, anxious in others––and frequently both––shot through with hooks and subtle melodic touches.

Album opener, 'You Should Do Better', starts things off briskly, the song's immediate energy tempered by singer Nick Johnston's self-deprecating ruminations on love.

Throughout, Johnston sounds as though he's not long out of bed, adopting a weary, less-is-more approach that smartly plays off the band's nimble, mostly hopeful sounding melodies.

The tension between words and sounds is perhaps best heard on album highlight 'By Your Side', when Johnston sings, 'And when the sunlight breaks your slumber, and offers no such consolation' over the band's lazy, nostalgic jangle.

'Oh Hell', the record's fifth track, is another stand out––a simple, dreamy number built around reverbed, jangling guitar, it's the sonic equivalent of a massage, easy and comforting and effortless.

It doesn't all work: after 'Oh Hell', the songs can start to merge together, and you get the feeling the band has front-loaded the album with the stronger tracks.

Still, Hollow remainsa consistently engaging listen, the sound of a band deeply indebted to their influences, but one gifted with the spark and talent to make their take on old sounds come off vital and fresh.

Hollow, for all its debts to the music of the past, is a thoroughly modern sounding album, the kind you'll be reaching for on a long drive, or a sunny, hungover Sunday morning. 

Maggie Collins

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