You only get one chance at a first impression. With the introduction to debut album, Douse, Cornish quartet Hypophora have made a relatively bold one. “Mercurial” may be less than 90 seconds long, but after slipping smoothly out of the speakers, it swiftly builds into a remarkably broad and stately refrain, before equally quickly shifting up through the gears to hit first song proper, “Behave”, running. To effectively throw away such a high-quality passage on what is fundamentally a preamble suggests a band that is overflowing with good ideas. The following ten tracks then go on to prove that emphatically.
There’s a stripped-back, timeless quality to Douse, with minimal divergence from the standard guitar/bass/drums/vocals configuration. Hypophora’s influences, too, cluster in the nineties and tend to reach back into history from there rather than forwards to anything more contemporary, but Douse nevertheless feels fresh and vital. The net result is something akin to a Benjamin Button phenomenon – Hypophora are brimming with the youthful exuberance you would expect from looking at a picture of them, but carry a wisdom well beyond their years.
Lead single “Spires” is a particularly neat case study in this respect. With its lively tempo and anthemic chorus, it can be easy to miss the fact that big chunks of the song are in 5/4. This mixture of playfulness and serious musicianship also manifests in their tendency, both in the bridge of “Spires” and elsewhere, to progress through multiple variations on a riff’s theme, deftly avoiding the sound becoming stale whilst maintaining a degree of familiarity.
The basic skeleton of Hypophora’s sound is firmly rooted in the rich, song-focused heritage of Brit-rock, with some complimentary nods across the Atlantic. There is a noticeable influence of John Frusciante’s fluid playing style in Karum Cooper’s guitar work, as well as some of the spiky angularity of post-hardcore in their heavier moments. “Sorcerers” is one such spiky moment, given an inventive twist by inverting the standard quiet/loud dichotomy with a distorted bass riff driving the verses and clean guitars leading the chorus.
Hypophora’s secret weapon, though, lies in the voice of Katie McConnell. Mature, tremendously soulful, emotive and with a flair for a memorable hook, her voice sits comfortably on a list alongside the distinctive talents of Beth Gibbons and PJ Harvey. At various points throughout Douse, Katie’s vocals are filtered through a range of effects, particularly some tastefully applied distortion, which broadens the scope of her palette even further.
Douse is fairly evenly split between brash and bouncy, uptempo stompers and more delicate, silky-smooth and bluesy moments. “Etoliate” introduces a slower, almost stoner rock groove, and “Cars Run On Friendship” explodes from a languid funk into a riffy finale via an inspired break-beat crescendo. “Chemical X” is a curveball highlight, constructed in layers over a gigantic, lumbering and hypnotic bass riff, with a dreamy and immersive Jane’s Addiction vibe. The Yu-Yi Band‘s Emile Hinton adds some jazzy keys to “Smiling (Numb)” for a dash of extra flavour.
Douse has a resolutely organic feel, to the point that it sounds like it could have been recorded by the band standing together in a particularly well-mic’d rehearsal room. There is a relaxed looseness to the sessions and a slight fuzziness around the edges that adds to the warmth and personality of the songs, which may have been lost in the sterilising cleanse of a quest for absolute perfection.
It is obvious that Hypophora possess a fearsome collective talent, and it is no mean feat that they have marshaled them so tastefully and effectively rather than disappearing into a fog of self-indulgence. If there is any justice in the world, Douse will be just the beginning. With time resolutely on their side, and such a strong and credible debut under their belts, we can probably expect truly great things from them in the future, as well as there being a tremendous amount of fun to be had with these songs in the present.
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Douse is available now via Zen Ten Records and can be purchased through the Bandcamp link above.