Out Hud Broke Up
All the pimps come out for a social affair
When Sleater-Kinney announced a couple of weeks ago that they were going on "indefinite hiatus," about a million blogs and articles, including this one, lamented the end of what was probably the most consistently great rock band of the last ten years. When the New York dance band Out Hud formally announced their breakup last week, they didn't get any of the same eulogies, and that's a shame; Out Hud wasn't as great or important as Sleater-Kinney, but they'd grown to become one of the best bands in the city, and they were really hitting their stride recently. Here's what cellist/vocalist Molly Schnick told Pitchfork on Wednesday: "We figured everyone already knew. There are clues about it all over the last record. Solo records to follow..." So that's it: no final obligatory "thanks to all the fans who made it worthwhile," no farewell mini-tour, no final unreleased projects. They're done.
When the band first started getting attention around 2000, they'd relocated to NYC from Sacramento, and they were generally considered to be something of a footnote to !!!, the jumped up clatter-funk nine-piece that shared three members with the band. There's never really been anything subtle about !!!, and their bangs and grunts and butt-dances fit perfectly with the whole dancepunk wave that started taking New York by storm around the time Strokes-mania died down. Out Hud was sort of the band's sleepy, pretty cousin: long and drawn-out grooves, wordless vocals, enough aimless noodling that they didn't fit comfortably into the dancepunk scene's coke-binge steez. The band's debut album, 2002's S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D., had some nice ideas, but it kept them all hidden under bubbley waves of pillowy synths and languid cellos, which killed all their propulsive drive and turned them into faceless post-postrock killjoys.
I pretty much wrote Out Hud off after S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D., but a funny thing happened about a year later. I saw the band open for Le Tigre in DC, and they were great, a breezy and joyous pileup of chiffon synthpop and twerked-up Chicago house with enough effortlessly chilly gum-snap sass that a Neneh Cherry reference wouldn't be altogether out of the question. I saw them a bunch of times after that, and they just kept getting better, Nic Offer's spazzy potbellied hypeman routine perfectly complementing Schnick and Phyllis Forbes' happy calm. It was pretty obvious that the guy standing at the back of the stage pushing buttons on a giant bank of equipment was doing most of the actual music-making work, but it didn't matter even a little bit; they looked like they were happier to be onstage than almost any other band I've ever seen. I saw them play to a dinky shitbox club-crowd on a Tuesday night, and I saw them play to thousands at Pitchfork's Intonation Festival, and they sounded equally gorgeous at both venues. They were a joy.
Let Us Never Speak of It Again, the album they dropped last year, finally put all that jerky enthusiasm on record, keeping all their blissed-out beauty but adding some serious forward drive and pitched-up tension-and-release dynamics. "Dear Mr. Bush, There Are Over 100 Words for Shit and Only One for Music. Fuck You, Out Hud" had a great song title, and it's maybe the only eleven-minute tech-house marathon in existence that doesn't bore the hell out of me. Schnick and Forbes started singing on the record, but I'm not sure what clues Schnick was talking about on Wednesday; I never really got around to paying attention to Out Hud's lyrics when everything else was so pretty. Even better, !!! finally started to get great last year when they started integrating some of Out Hud's sweeping sensuality on their "Take Ecstasy With Me / Get Up" twelve-inch the same way Out Hud had integrated some of !!!'s fired-up raucousness. I loved the idea of two sister bands starting out with completely different styles and slowly growing together, helping each other out and pushing each other toward greatness, symbiotically linked. Now one of those bands, the better one, doesn't exist anymore. I've never been in a band, and I don't know what makes a band like Out Hud break up after spending years finding their voice and learning to love the stage. but I hope they don't all hate each other; it would be nice if they kept influencing each other's solo records.