Bracken is the solo debut of Chris Adams, lead singer of Hood. Hood, from Leeds, have been toiling for more than fifteen years now, and it looks like they're just about ready to give up – 2001's Cold House and 2005's Outside Closer, two of the greatest British albums of the decade, sunk without trace, and their website now has them 'on an extended break... though something in 2008 has not been ruled out.' Those albums really comprised dozens of stunning experiments in how technology can work with desolate folk and post-rock: dub echoes, tape loops, glitches, drum machines, samples, drones, and so on. Hood, in fact, arguably invented folktronica on their early seven inch singles, years before anyone gave it a name; but while producers like Four Tet aim at the pretty, Hood aim at the miserable. In a sense, it's obvious why Hood never got anywhere commercially – they're simply one of the saddest bands in the world – but then if acts like Low and Mogwai, both of whom they've supported, attained a kind of marginal stardom, why not Hood? I don't know.
We Know About The Need could just about be another Hood album. This is not one of those solo projects which gives the lead singer a long-awaited chance to indulge his secret love of Italo disco. But it's a Hood album with the walls closing in. While Hood used to wander through huge foggy spaces, letting their instruments emerge slowly and timidly, Bracken is often suffocatingly dense. Every song sounds like it has a dozen layers.
The palette is familiar – undistorted guitars, weeping fiddles, brushed drums, and Adams' dead-eyed vocals. (Actually, his singing voice is uncannily close to that of Alexis Taylor, lead singer of Hot Chip, and if your iTunes follows Hood with their alphabetical neighbours, you could be forgiven for thinking that Adams really did have a secret love of Italo disco and had somehow sneaked a secret track on to the end of Outside Closer.) But hip hop is more of a presence now – or at least the shattered hip hop of Warp Records boys like Prefuse 73, which was already in evidence on Hood songs like The Lost You. There's a real boom-bap to, for example, opener Of Athroll Slains, although thankfully the inexplicably popular Dose One, also on Anticon, who raps portentous nonsense in the style of a giant walking pair of swollen sinuses, does not guest on this album as he did on Cold House. Some have identified a dubstep influence, perhaps because DMZ, Kode 9 and Burial are in Bracken's top friends on Myspace, but I can't hear it, apart from a few sub-bass gulps – although We Know About The Need does have a mournful feel not at all dissimilar to Burial's LP.
Bracken is also even glitchier than Hood. Like in a really good horror movie, nothing lasts long without getting sliced to pieces. And, as with bands like Efterklang, the clicks and cuts don't feel like a mere stylistic conceit – they're an integral part of the atmosphere of confusion and despair. (As you can imagine, Bracken probably get asked to play a lot of weddings.) Songs like Heathens teeter on the edge of complete disintegration.
Although Adams shows he can get along very well without his bandmates, I'm left wondering if We Know About The Need will have quite the same longevity as Hood's albums. Bracken's choruses never soar over the wasteland like Hood's did. And sometimes the sheer thickness of texture and detail threatens to overwhelm the songwriting: nearly all of Hood's songs would still be great played solo on an acoustic guitar, but you wonder if that's true here. It's almost as if playing in a band sustained a sort of pessimist pop impulse which has died off on this album. But then, who knows what lurks under all those twigs?
Released 4/2 on Anticon