In case anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, I listen to Lightning 100 a lot. In fact, I’d say that my dial stays tuned to 100.1 for 99% of the time, only turning when I don’t think I can stand hearing one more spin of “Stubborn Love” by The Lumineers. It should come as no surprise, then, that my introduction to Hotpipes came courtesy of Lightning 100 DJ Justin Hammel, who features them pretty regularly on local-music show The 615. Having moved to town just under a year ago, I missed the band the first time around and didn’t initially know whether or not to be excited about their glorious return. I found myself intrigued, though, after hearing a few more songs. Now, sitting and listening to Hotpipes hot-and-fresh-out-the-kitchen LP Dust, I am sad. Sad because I missed them in their prior life, but double-sad because I’ll be out of town to see them launch their new one at Mercy Lounge this Saturday.
In order to give Dust a proper review, I felt that it was necessary to go back and familiarize myself with Hotpipes’ back catalogue. Even for those who are familiar, it might be a good idea to recap and refresh your memory as to where these guys left off, since it’s been over four years since their last release. To me, early Hotpipes sound very much like a New-Wave-informed garage-rock band. “Women of the World Agree” off of their self-titled debut LP sounds like The Kaiser Chiefs (remember them?) and Thom Yorke got together in a garage somewhere and had a good old fashioned rock-the-fuck-out sesh. Their 2008 follow-up “Future Bolt” saw them move in a more refined, progressive direction; the album seems to alternate between tracks more reminiscent of their first album — such as “Born in a Bomb,” “Where is the Shore,” and the title-track “Future Bolt” — and more forward-thinking indie-rock on tracks like the aptly-named “The Future is Where We Belong.” Hotpipes left off sounding like a group moving in the direction of bands like Grizzly Bear and Dr. Dog, but who were not quite ready to give up their garage-rock gusto.
Hotpipes may have lost two members in the intervening 5 years, but Dust appears to pick up right where they left off. Jonathan Rogers continues to lend his hot pipes (sorry), and former-drummer Dan Sommers moves into more of a creative role, lending more horn overdubs and enjoying the chance to “build up from nothing and play whatever.” Dust sees the band marching forward into experimental indie-rock territory, but losing none of the energy and zeal that endeared them to fans in the first place. Produced with Jeremy Ferguson at Battle Tapes, the album is wild, chaotic, cinematic, and expansive. Fuzzy guitars and dirty synths abound. The opening track, “Ohio Will,” is a great indication of where the rest of the album is going. The track opens with a squishy, almost-dub synth before launching into the raucous, anthemic hook. By the chorus, it’s clear that Rogers’ voice is in top form. He belts out “Ohiooooooo Will” with that piercing, vacuum-nozzle-stuck-on-the carpet clarity that I previously thought belonged only to Sting. “Accidentals” and “The Bear and the Astronaut” are the tracks that most closely match the soaring fervor of “Ohio Will,” though the energy is present throughout. “Only the Young” is the apple that falls farthest from the tree. A dark, dance-able, Depeche Mode-influenced track, this is clearly the most experimental point of the album, and it turns out to be an experiment with satisfying results. My favorite of the bunch is “Caroline.” The track is one of the few that remains mellow throughout, and comes as a breath of cool, fresh air after the steamroller of a song that is “Answer Your Telephone.” The hook is an instantly-infectious 8-bit gameboy-arppeggio, and when it reaches the chorus it almost sounds like a somber “Sweet Caroline” for a generation raised on Radiohead and Arcade Fire instead of Neil Diamond.
But WAIT! Don’t buy the album yet. If you grab a $10 ticket for the Hotpipes album release this Saturday, May 11 at Mercy Lounge, you also receive a free vinyl copy of Dust. Vinyl is how the Hotpipes want you to hear the album — Dan Sommers says the band went “all out” with packaging and artwork, and the vinyl comes in custom red. How cool is that?! Hotpipes previously built a name for themselves on the strength of their live performances, and Saturday’s show looks to carry on that tradition. Echo Group and Treekeeper are set to open, and Hotpipes will be joined by a string and horn section. Dan says: “it’s going to be a production.” Those of you in Nashville this weekend, do me and yourself both a favor and get yourself over to Mercy Lounge this Saturday. For all we know, this could be your last chance to see these guys. Doors are at 8, shows start at 9, and show is 18+.