Re-released in November, Hoops’ 2015 freshman project, Tape #1, is a pleasantly brilliant reminder that although the indie rock trio developed their sound in rough conditions, they managed to maintain their sonic spirit even after sharpening its quality on their newer material.
Hoops has been onto something great since sprouting into the indie rock scene in 2015, although the dull titles of their first three releases – DIY’d indie pop projects enticingly called Tape #1, Tape #2 and Tape #3 – seem to instantly argue against the band’s novelty. Their inventiveness admittedly isn’t really readable; unlike a book cover or film poster, the ideas beneath Hoops’ work can’t be captured with an attentive glance, even if that glance is at the group’s artful album visuals or brotherly press photos or simplistic song titles. Because with the Bloomington, Indiana lo-fiers, everything on the surface is arguably, and perhaps deliberately, generic and expected of a bros-turned-bandmates indie rock trio.
That said, ordinariness is what allows Hoops’ audience to fall hard for the stuff that truly matters: their music that always hits the heart, electrifies the nerves and replicates both the most euphoric and misery-induced feelings. Currently comprised of Drew Auscherman, Keagan Beresford and Kevin Krauter, the group has maintained this motif through five releases over the last two years, most recently with their self-titled EP last year, along with their debut record Routines, which was released this May on Fat Possum.
Especially notable is the symbolic contrast between the title of the freshman record and its contents – the word ‘routines’ connotes something being performed methodically, usually to the point of habit or complaisance. But Routines ironically boasts of a newborn, hi-fi freshness that Hoops hadn’t yet approached on the three short tapes that launched them into cleaner, intelligible air. Nevertheless, that muffled, fuzzy sound apparent on Tapes #1-3 (re-released last month as a three-part compilation) but absent from newer songs belonging to Hoops and Routines – say, “Gemini,” “On Top” and “On Letting Go” – is not erroneous. Instead, it’s a reminder that although Hoops developed their sound in the roughest conditions, they brilliantly managed to maintain their sonic spirit even after sharpening its quality.
Listen: ‘Tape #1’ – Hoops
Receiving a special re-release of its own in November 2017, Tape #1 marks Hoops’ bright, crunchy and short beginnings as an assortment of 2014 and 2015 demos. And perhaps that last listed characteristic is the record’s only fault. Illustratively, the project’s eight tracks clock in at a quick 25 minutes – this runtime is fine for a decent debut, but from a pleased listener’s perspective, is hardly satisfactory. “Tell me anything and everything that you wanna do,” repeats Auscherman in “Grass,” the tape’s closer, a garbled love song that belongs some place between a sticky summer and cool dream. And while epitomizing Hoops’ early creations, the track also owns the romanticism and luster of their new material. “Grass” speaks of belonging to another one, and its guitar riffs have a glint equally colorful as the riffs that shine on “Cool 2,” an under-two-minute jam earlier in the record that’s capable of making make even the saddest person sway, or maybe even jump around, with a smile on their face. Yet, such dissatisfaction rises when the track halts, rather than fades or strategically turns, to an end – it’s not that “Grass” is a flawed song on its own, but as a conclusion to Tape #1, it’s disappointing. The strong, steady climax of something like “On My Corner” would’ve better fit the finish of the record, but admittedly, that suggestion wouldn’t repair the big problem: brevity. The record would, alas, still be 25 minutes. And as with all pleasant things that must end, it’s frustrating – frustrating that Hoops seemingly didn’t want to spoil their audience with more guitar pop charm until Tape #2 was let go.
However, all selfishness aside, every other facet of Tape #1 is, indeed, some of the most charming, ‘80s-indebted rock around. Right before “Grass” is “John,” an enigmatic cut dressed in a darker tone than Hoops’ others; it’s an unusually cosmic song with synths that emulate rocket-ship final countdowns or being chased in cinematically shadowy alleys. The track also displays how smoothly Hoops have approached the art of the song. For frontman Auscherman, vocals aren’t exactly a forte, but with the lo-fi sensibility of tracks like “John,” “Be There” and “Courtside” – the latter taking the cake as the sleepiest, yet grittiest Hoops recording to-date – melodies barely matter. When it comes to listening to the Midwest threesome, it’s not about how their words are being said; it’s purely about the words. Lyrically, “John” matches its mysteriously racing instrumental (I want to play your game/ What’s on your mind, I want to waste your time), while the key and hung-up lyrics of “Other One” could backtrack a pretty sunset relished by a lonesome party of one. And another narrative song is the tape’s basketball-centric opening, “Nothing but Net”; although it’s unclear of whether the account symbolizes the barriers of romantic relationship or simply those of life (I see you getting closer, but my feet, they never leave the ground/ You’re trying to guard me, I’m trying to get by), Auscherman’s metaphor stands powerfully, even sans elaborate vocal technique.
But just because Hoops have things to say doesn’t mean those words stories are always meant to be heard – as with plenty of DIY rock, there are moments when the band’s lyrics are almost laughably indecipherable, and “Courtside” demonstrates that distortion. Underneath haunting chimes and keyboards, the song’s vocals reflect exhausted yawns on behalf of Auscherman. It’s a weird, processed way to go, but the technique says something about the song’s thematic drowsiness: when you’re that tired, nothing makes sense, anyway. So maybe it’s best to yawn with Hoops, to fade away and continue slipping into the lovely guitar pop magic that is Tape #1.
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photo © Danielle Petrosa