Music Reviews

Artist: Ernest Hood
Title: Neighborhoods
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Freedom To Spend
“Neighbourhoods”- sorry, “Neighborhoods”- is a deluxe re-issue of an unusual 1975 album from Ernest Hood, whose early career was as a jazz guitarist before contracting polio pushed him into playing gentler and softer string instruments such as harps.

On this album though, as well as gentle string plucking, there’s a strong emphasis on the experimental- wistful fluke-like high-pitched synthesizer notes borrowed from the sound of prog rock or 70’s era Radiophonic Workshop, and a bold use of ambient field recordings that are mostly familiar-sounding audio postcards that you may find on sound effects LP’s, but which are allowed to run deeper and longer than you may expect and really give you time to soak up the atmosphere. In the original liner notes there are references to “musical cinematography” which for 1975 does seem (marginally) ahead of its time. Knowing fading of musical motifs into gentle birdsong-and-vehicle-laden ambient tone certainly seems to predate and hark forward to work like The KLF’s “Chill Out”.

There’s something quite parochial about a lot of it, musically speaking. “At The Store” sounds at first like the incidental music to a light-hearted documentary about the routine of everyday suburban life, even to the extent that it’s structured in a set of easily-edited movements for easy picture sync. The harp tones of “August Haze” seem to paint an idyllic but somewhat Stepford Wives-esque picture of suburban tranquility, and “From The Bluff” is similar but with evening social hues. There are odder compositions at play as well, with “After School” a curious concoction of fun, energy and innocence blended with playground sounds, but which does seem to carry a gently mocking subtext. “Gloaming” is the track where most spoken word is discernible, with what seems to be a grandfather waxing nostalgic to an attentive child, accompanied by a thoughtful melody seemingly determined to paint a landscape of ‘the good old days’

It’s one of those releases which, on the surface, has dated somewhat- despite exemplary remastering quality, it’s still a release that’s of its own time. But in context it’s a fascinating period piece- not just of sounds of the era (albeit not wholly different from today’s sounds), but of a lesser-known bit of 1970’s experimental music for which a dusting off is very much justified.

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