Dinosaur rock

Hooray for Earth’s smashing debut
By WILL SPITZ  |  September 15, 2006

060915_hooray_main
ALLSTON GOULASH: Picture Squarepusher and Enya collaborating on songs for In Utero.
Hooray for Earth singer/guitarist Noel Heroux spends so much time at his band’s Allston rehearsal space, you could imagine he practically lives there. And in fact he does, sleeping on an air mattress among broken guitar parts and empty beer cans. After spending a Monday night there with him and his band mates — bassist Chris Principe, drummer Seth Kasper, synth player/guitarist Gary Benacquista — I get the feeling he calls the small, dingy room home not for economic reasons but because that’s where he’d spend all his free time anyway. He was holed up there for most of the last three years writing and recording fleshed-out demos of the 13 songs that make up Hooray for Earth’s new self-released Hooray for Earth, an outlandishly good CD and one of the best local debuts in recent memory.

“I don’t write songs on guitar,” he tells me over beers at the nearby Model Café. “I’ll be driving and I’ll be like, ‘Aw, crap, I gotta pull over,’ because a song pops in and I’ll have to go to the space and do the whole thing. It’s not like I’ve got this chord progression and a melody. It’s always all worked out, which actually drives me insane. If I forget something, I’m freaking out. I’ve gotta do it all at once. If I think of a song and it’s a half-hour before I have to go to work, I’m fucked.”

Which is remarkable given the intricacy of Hooray for Earth’s music, a goulash of grungy guitars, electronic dance music synths and beats, and classical and new-age elements. Picture Squarepusher and Enya collaborating on songs for In Utero.

Then there’s the way Heroux and Principe tune down a ridiculous two and a half steps to B, with Heroux often playing in drop-A, the strings slack and rattling against the frets, creating an ungodly ribcage-shaking rumble. Heroux recorded almost all of the album’s guitars at the rehearsal space by running them directly into a decrepit old HP Pavilion computer — an unconventional technique that was born out of haste and became an aesthetic preference. “I’d just plug a pedal in and be like, ‘All right, that works.’ But then I started really liking it, and I started doubling everything in a way and panning everything — these dry, low-tuned, Rat pedal-direct tracks — and I was like, ‘Wow, this sounds like dinosaurs.’ ”

Most of the synth sounds on the album are patches that Heroux made by manipulating homemade samples: a single plucked violin note triple-tracked and soaked in reverb, a heavily effected snippet of his girlfriend and her sister singing faux opera, a string part from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis pitch-shifted to match the chords of a song, his own voice run backward, etc. But it’s Heroux’s goosebump melodies riding atop unorthodox chord progressions that set Hooray for Earth apart. There are unexpected dynamic shifts and improbable harmonic twists and turns. The songs are structured with a snatch of melody acting as a teaser for the impending chorus or a bridge setting up the song’s climax.

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