Hope Of The States
The Lost Riots
fuss is being kicked up about the debut album from Chichester’s Hope Of The States for reasons that go beyond the mere quality of the record. Signed to Sony in a flurry of hyperbole, Hope Of The States are the tipping point of post-rock, the moment at which the genre shifts into the mainstream, establishes itself in the collective conscious, and goes overground. Adding to this is the instant mythology of guitarist James Lawrence’s suicide whilst recording their debut album. The only difference this time being that instead of at the end of his career, Lawrence was barely on the cusp of it. Bowed but not broken by their friend’s death, the band played on. The Lost Riots is the culmination of a period of anticipation, fervour and tragedy that few people could begin to understand.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor are the group most often name checked in relation to Hope Of The States’ sound, and the two groups certainly share a certain austere sense of doomed melancholy. Like Godspeed, States utilise a barrage of apocalyptic guitars and drums augmented with strings and horns, but they differ greatly with regards to structure and delivery; Hope Of The States trade in drawn-out, dirge-y rock formations, with singer Sam Herlihy’s vocals seen as the hook that will lead them to mainstream success. Unfortunately Herlihy’s vocals could also be a major stumbling block for the band, his tuneless, wannabe-American yowl impassioned and compellingly miserable but a tuneless, wannabe-American yowl nonetheless, almost bearable when delivering a litany of self-pity and self-deception (“Sadness On My Back”), but breathlessly uncomfortable when grappling with rockers like current single “The Red The White The Black The Blue”.
That Hope Of The States are posited as post-rock is bizarre. Ten years ago when the term was first coined it hinted at an exciting, technological future for rock music, seeking influence outside its own history by looking towards jazz, techno, ambient, the avant-garde and anything else that could conceivably offer fertile new sonic ground. But a decade of sonic and emotional conservatism has transformed it into just another sub-genre; the strung out remnants of grunge made grandiose with lavish violins and noise. Hope Of The States have none of the dead-eyed, urban beauty of Bark Psychosis (vapour trails of distant airplanes turning orange in the sunset), none of Disco Inferno’s impulsion to realign the fabric of pop music (melodies made of shutter speeds and glass underfoot), and little apparent desire to explore sonic territories outside of those offered by a guitar.
What they do have is passion and intensity in tangible amounts, and a handful of modernist, minimal alternative rock songs that are bound to find them legions of fervent and devoted fans. “The Black Amnesias” is a windswept, dynamic instrumental that stutters and soars, and “Enemies/Friends” is an insurrection of martial drumming and slashing guitar. The album highlights come back-to-back halfway through, when the emotive country fiddle melancholy of “George Washington” (“The sound they made was sad but hopeful / Stand up, be counted”) follows the bleak, arid cascades of “Black Dollar Bills”, before The Lost Riots tails off in an aimless flurry of (perhaps justified) epic self-pity and hollow ideology.
The most intriguing thing about Hope Of The States is how at odds with themselves they seem. Driven by an epic but unidentifiable passion, their music constantly hints at a wilful and painful desire to explode the formalities of melody and structure and self-destruct in white-light catharsis, and yet they are continually reigned in by a sense of grudging conservatism, obligated and resented sensibility. The impression is that they may never take that extra step which would see them break into truly remarkable territory.