I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard Hinds. The name is familiar from gig listings around NYC, which means they’re big enough to play mid-level venues such as Rough Trade and Music Hall Of Williamsburg. If I close my eyes and think hard I can envision their band photos which I’ve seen standing out against the white space on the music blogs. They are an all-female band. I’m pretty sure one of them has curly blond hair. And this is all I know. I’ve never read an article on them or a review until this one. If I hear a song I don’t recognize in a store or a bar, even one I’m not fond of, I tend to look it up. So while I may be peripherally aware of the band Hinds, I would bet a tenner that I’ve never heard them in my life.
People have been asking us who we think we are with these reviews of record reviews, this critiquing of the critics. Why would you do this, they ask. That isn’t allowed, they say. In regard to the latter, I’ve looked it up in the law books and religious texts and found that it is indeed allowed. As for the former, well, music critics have been operating more or less without a net for the past 50 years. They can single-handedly shape the opinions of thousands of individuals with just five paragraphs. They can create narratives and descriptors that stay with artists until their dying days. They can carry out personal vendettas or champion their musician friends. If you think for a second that a music critic doesn’t hold a lot of power then consider this: based on just this Pitchfork review by Stuart Berman, Hinds may gain a lifelong listener and the Spotify streams, vinyl purchases, and gig tickets that come with it. If this doesn’t make Hinds nervous, then it should since there are thousands of others who will be making the same call based on what Pitchfork has to say about their record. What if the writer assigned to your record happens to be in a dark mood that particular day? What if the line at the coffee shop where Stuart Berman pens his reviews was too long? The success or failure of an entire album cycle rests firmly in his hands as they peck away at that MacBook Pro.
I’m not sure when Pitchfork began positioning a summary blurb as the lead-in to their reviews, but it’s a wonderful thing. If you’re like me and aren’t completely invested in knowing every-single-thing-about-every-single-new-release then these blurbs are godsends. Just one or two sentences long, the lead-ins are usually more than enough to determine if the rest of the review will be worth reading. Berman comes straight out the gate dropping the information I sorely need in his Hinds review blurb. Right away I find out some interesting aspects that begin filling in the many blanks I have on this band. I learn that they are Spanish. I learn that this is their second record. I learn that there are two main songwriters amongst the Hinds and that this duo presents, in Berman’s mind at least, “superior songcraft”. That’s a lot of intel for a one-sentence blurb, and I do appreciate it. But do I want to read the rest of the review? The very last word Berman drops in this blurb is an adjective: “exuberance”. Now this grabs my attention. Hinds “wade through love’s messy feelings with confidence and exuberance.” Joy is something that has dropped very far off the radar in rock music, rarely seen since the strutting Aqua Net 80s were jabbed in the back with a syringe full of dour Seattle gloom and rage. Right here in The Year Of Our Lord 2018, where every band and their mothers are posting crying selfies and penning woke-as-fuck essays, a thing like exuberance seems not only out-of-place but downright alien. But Stuart Berman is telling me in his blurb that there is exuberance afoot with this Hinds record.
Well Stuart, you have my attention. I shall be reading the rest of the review.
Berman also swings for the proverbial fences with the first sentence of the main review. “Hinds specialize in songs about love — which are not the same as love songs.” This is the type of observation that separates the hobbyist from the professional music critic. There are songs professing love and devotion, and then there are the songs that deal with the many resultant fallouts, confusions, ecstasies, and abstract comforts that result. This is the type of quote that gets picked up in other reviews and band biographies and 33 ½ books. “Stuart Berman once wrote that…” In dropping it as the first line of the review, Berman has me interested in Hinds already. Songs about the intricacies of interpersonal relationships. This is my thing. And this is where Berman shows his critical mastery. Where the dregs of the profession espouse on and on (and on) about their own philosophies and hot takes and life experiences, Berman drops on-point observations while never losing sight of the record and band in question.
Then there’s that adjective again:
“The Madrid quartet wade through these messy feelings with confidence and exuberance to spare, taking us on a pleasure cruise through choppy waters.”
Exuberance. Taking on messy romantic nonsense with confidence and a spring in the step. Good times on rough seas. Berman has already convinced me to listen to this record and we aren’t even out of the first paragraph. Unless he tells me later that Hinds are Nazi child pornographers who hate my mother, I’ll be pulling up them up on The Streams right when I’m done with this piece.
The band background sweep is often the toughest thing to pull off in a record review. The pitfalls are many. The worst critics assume that the reader knows everything there is to know about, say, an obscure Michigan noise duo. “Not since the black barn days have Bandanna Wolf sounded this serrated and glitchy, yet the pastoral elements picked up on CunSTRUK have not been discarded entirely.” Or they go the other failed route and load on information you most certainly are already aware of. “The musical landscape was vastly different before The Beatles. Coming out of the English industrial city of Liverpool, this mop-headed foursome went from singing catchy ditties about holding hands to experimental, mind-expanding concept albums over the course of just five years.” Stuart Berman falls into neither of these traps. His Hinds back story here is concise and insightful, useful both to fans of the band and people like myself who have never heard them. I learn that their first record toiled in genre exercises including 60s girl group Shangri-Las-isms, twee-as-fuck K Records jive, and modern indie pop. I certainly won’t be pulling up that record, but then I learn that the new one takes these elements and injects better songcraft, creating a “lustrous swirl” that sounds rather enticing to me. I learn that there are two singer/guitarists in the group and that they are mad different. One Hinds singer is calm in her vocal delivery while the other is a bit of a fire spitter. This is an intriguing contrast, and Berman assures that their “sugar and spice” interplay is entirely complimentary. All throughout this sweep Berman sprinkles in key descriptors that keep it from devolving into a dry Hinds history lesson. Check out the “charm offensive” quote and how it ties in with the co-lead singers spiel. Check out his description of how the aggressive singer’s words “melt in her mouth like pieces of sponge toffee.” Further lines such as “amplifying the sense of hysteria” work to amplify my eagerness to check out Hinds. Hysteria! Not only is that the best Def Leppard album, but it’s something that hasn’t been seen on the indie landscape since The Dead Milkmen.
Berman goes to great lengths to paint the Hinds pack as having, in his own words, “an audible sense of camaraderie”. Yet he doesn’t fall into the Stroksian “cooler than thou” mystery-wrapped-in-a-leather-jacket trap. Hinds are not the saviors of anything. They hold no esoteric secrets. He simply paints them as a colorful and cheery bunch who have a lot of fun playing music and being in a band. More The Faces than The Rolling Stones. And in pointing out that all this camaraderie and exuberance comes off as “group therapy” in the Hands of the Hinds, he makes sure not to pigeonhole them as some sort of mindless party act. This is a fact that just isn’t understood on today’s popular music landscape outside of hip hop. Just because a band may be fun doesn’t mean they aren’t serious.
A quick and breezy approach is used to tackle the songlist, specifically mentioning only five tracks from the eleven song record. This is a risky move to be sure, and one that has doomed countless other reviews, but Berman has done such an admirable job in painting the overall vibe of the record and the band itself over the first several paragraphs that his gamble ends up working. The songs he does mention are set up in intriguing fashion. There’s the “deceptively laid-back” jam called “Soberland” which is about an aging BF who still wishes to lead a young life and get chase girls. Berman’s description of the chorus as “ecstatic” is intriguing considering the subject matter. It’s this type of music criticism that truly creates listeners. I will most likely be skipping right to this track first, thanks to Stuart Berman. A song called “Tester” with lyrics such as “Should’ve known before that you were also banging her” is next studied, where Berman sneaks in one of the best lines of the review: “The song’s spirited jangle-punk stomp clears a beeline from the bed to the door.”
Berman is one of those types of critics who can conjure on-the-mark philosophical points from songs that the artists themselves are most likely unaware of. When focusing on a song titled “New for You” he zeroes in on the line, “I don’t want to disappoint you with my new persona” and credits Hinds with “tapping into the latent fear that even positive changes can have destabilizing effects on relationships.” Now, did whichever Hinds member who wrote this song actually intend for this line to have such profound meaning? Most likely not, but hey I’m sure she’ll be flattered.
Of his considerable critical strengths stockpile, Berman’s most valuable weapon his innate ability to lay out a band’s entire aesthetic in just one line, and without explicitly stating that this is what he is doing. “It’s a vulnerable moment,” he says of a lyric on the record’s final track. “but for Hinds, this is what a proper love song should sound like.” And speaking of lyrics, he does a fine job here cherry picking some intriguing lines from the record (“Don’t know who messed you bed, but my socks are staying there”) that just really make me want to give this thing a spin. It is obvious that Berman has been tracking this band for a while and may have even been one of the first on board the Hinds Train, but he manages to convey a respect for the band without resorting to the type of hyperbole or shameless fandom sometimes found floating around Pitchfork World Headquarters.
Concise and economical yet informative, colorful, and rich with insight, this review has gained Hinds at least one further listen. Obviously the line was not too long at Stuart Berman’s local coffee shop that morning. He may have even gotten a smile from that one cute barista.