Letting HOUNDS Run Free

I find out about new bands a few different ways: by listening to KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, by watching NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, by seeing bands on the late night TV talk shows. What I rarely do is find a new band by going through my email.

Most of the press releases I receive about new music are in the world music or jazz categories and rarely does the music actually grabs me. But these are not regular times.

One day, about a month ago, I was going through my emails when I came across one from a publicist, I didn’t know, Emily Ginsberg from Big Hassle Media in the MidWest. She was singing the praises of a new band called “Hounds.” Her press release touted the fact that they had won the 2019 Topgolf Band Competition, and she had quotes from Dee Snider and Matt Pinfield. Their first album “Cattle in the Sky” is being released on February 5 by BMG.

I had no idea what Topgolf was, had never heard of their band competition, had no idea who Matt Pinfield is (I just googled him and apparently he was a VJ for MTV and VH1) and as for Dee Snider, – no disrespect but I can’t say I’ve ever listened to Twisted Sister (at least not on purpose).

However, it was a slow day (it has been some 300 slow days) and what caught my eye was this sentence in the press release “The Song “Shake Me Up” is so good!! A real feel good track, and we need more songs like this right now.” I could get behind that, and although I might have thought it was the publicist saying that, turns out it was Matt Pinfield, whose opinion I was now growing to rely upon.

So Iistened, and I went on YouTube and I listened some more and I liked what I heard: The band did a quite good cover of “What a Wonderful World” (the Louis Armstrong song — and they shot the video all over St. Louis) and a cover of the Jet Song, “Look What You’ve Done.” And then I found “Shake Me Up” and it was everything Pinfield said it was, a retro classic early rock vibe with such positive energy – which is indeed feel good music for these times.

From there, I went down the rabbit hole a bit. First of all, I discovered that Topgolf is, as best I can tell, a technology that allows one to measure how close you hit a golf ball to the desired hole or target, which is itself a stand-alone competition, which can also be played at venues (as opposed to actual courses or driving ranges), which has become Topgolf entertainment locations all over the US, which are also bars and restaurants and can serve as party spaces, and this, Topgolf is also a company that now produces its own entertainment content, including producing a show Topgolf Band Competition, which is a talent contest in the American Idol -type format for unsigned bands hosted by radio & tv host Kerri Kasem and whose judges in 2019 included Dee Snider and shot at Topgolf’s music venues in Las Vegas and Nashville. And the whole ball of wax which is Topgolf is now part of Callaway. None of which you need to know, except that the 2019 Topgolf Who Will Rock You contest was Hounds, who received a development deal with BMG, which led to their actually getting signed to do their first album.

From the Topgolf ‘Who Will Rock You’ show, and from some promotional materials for the Band, all of which are available on YouTube, I learned that the members of Hounds all grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis. The band is made of brothers Jordan and Logan Slone as well as Logan Mohler. and all of whom have known each other since elementary and high school. Although the band members are young and “Cattle in the Sky” is Hounds’ first album, turns out these guys have been at it for a long time. The three band members have stuck at the music while holding various jobs including car-window tinting, working in a warehouse, and being a waiter. They’ve been touring steadily, driving themselves to gigs in a white van that they’ve put some 100,000 miles on. They even opened for Chuck Berry.

There was an earlier band called Clockwork that was more in the Pop/ boyband genre, that also released some recordings. But they felt constrained by the genre, and so Hounds is a band where they are playing what they want to play rather than what they should play (at least that’s the impression from the videos and promotional materials).

Hounds describes itself as “a psychedelic rock band” but I am going to say that, based on their new album, they are more Doors influenced than say, Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane. More Black Keys than Greta Van Vleet or Devendra Banhart.

At their best, Hounds has hard-driving rock and roll energy, grittier than pretty, some flavor of the Early Beatles when it was John Lennon’s band. To these oldster ears, I hear refrains of the retro New Wave of the 1980s. It’s reminiscent at moments of the original Stray Cats recordings with Link Wray. Hounds is not as irony-filled as Blondie or the B52s, or as country-tinged as Dwight Yoakum or Chris Isaak, but Hounds definitely has a little rockabilly flavor. As such, there are moments of Elvis, and touches of Brian Wilson, as well as Roy Orbison’s high clear falsetto – which in some songs threaten to crescendo into Freddy Mercury Queen-like lyrical pronouncements. And that’s all the musical references I got because, in the end, Hounds are very much their own band.

Cattle in the Sky” is a collection of a dozen or so tracks that reflect a variety of musical approaches and styles. “Shake Me Up” remains the standout track. In truth, although the rest of the tracks showcase a variety of styles, I wish there were more in the “Shake Me Up” vein, that I feel is their true sweet spot — songs that just make you want to get up and dance (even if you are just bopping around alone at home).

Let me run through the album tracks: The album opens with “To be in love” which is more ballad than rocker (and has some of that Queen energy I mentioned before). “Three Hits of Acid,” is a recent release that has a very trippy video, but the song itself beyond some of the production echoes and reverb is more classic 80s rock. “Head in the Sand,” which I liked a lot, definitely has overtones of the Doors’ “Last Whiskey Bar.” “Make you my Baby” is another rocker (more of a song to pogo to). Similarly, “Long Way Down” is in their sweet spot and should get a lot of airplay. “muchanothing” is another track with that rockabilly feel. “In Over my head” is a power ballad with that Queen feel. “Low life” starts off as a gritty rocker but morphs into a power ballad. Finally, with “On Blue” you may feel like you’ve passed back into the 1950s with the falsettos and the rhythmic pace. The album finished with “On and On,” another ballad.

Overall, I would say that the band is definitely in the process of finding their true voice. Based on “Cattle in the Sky” it is clear they have the talent and the drive to get there. Whether they evolve into a consistent sound or continue to experiment with various influences remains to be seen.

“It is necessary sometimes to take one step backward to take two steps forward,” is a saying attributed to Russian revolutionary Vladmir Ilyich Lenin. It seems to be advice that Hounds has taken, looking back to the Doors and early rock influences to find a sound truly their own.

“Cattle in the Sky” by the Hounds is being released February 5 by BMG

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