Obsession As A Reflex: A Review Of Hausu’s ‘Total’

[First Published at End Hits, June 26 2013]

In a 1988 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Joe Strummer expressed some discomfort. “I don’t like the idea that people who aren’t adolescents make records,” he said. “Adolescents make the best records. Except for Paul Simon.” Strummer probably believed it. Adolescence is anger, energy and the disturbing realization that what’s happening around you is fucked up. Punk, basically.

Strummer missed something, though. Come out of adolescence and things don’t get easier. The strong-mindedness hangs around and some of the energy sticks, but the anger changes direction, coming back at the individual rather than the surroundings. Things fall apart and pull away from each other and that singular worldview that guides angry kids doesn’t organize things quite how it used to. On TotalHausu have produced a terrifyingly high-resolution image of these scattered fragments, and with it, they’ve released one of the finest debut records in recent memory.

It doesn’t take long to drag you into the middle of its broken world. When Alex Maguire and Ben Funkhouser’s guitars slur and echo into one another on opener “Chrysanthemum” and explode into life as quickly as they’ve settled, it’s easy to assume that Hausu’s quiet-loud dynamic is in place. But when Funkhouser eases his way into the track, he sounds exhausted, near defeat. The despair is there again on “Gardenia” when he admits “I don’t want to talk about it anymore, I just want to feel like I’m living again/I just want to move back home, and see my parents and cats,” before realizing that even that’s too much effort and, really, “I just want to go back to sleep.”

To think of Total as nothing more than a chronicle of despair would be a mistake, though. “Recovery” is discordant and melodic in equal measure and becomes more baffling on each listen, particularly when Carl Hedman’s bass starts poking through the mix, coiling itself around the guitars and conversing with the sparse lyrics. “1991-2091” is a short kick to the head that demonstrates the quartet’s ability to change gears in a heartbeat, its lethargic rhythm leaving space for Funkhouser and Maguire to move before giving way to their frantic and distorted guitars.

Then there’s the disturbing opposition and complication of the album’s middle sequence. Reverb-drenched centerpiece “Tetsuo,” featuring little more than one guitar and incomprehensible ramblings beneath it, rises and falls with such grace that its lyrical fallout becomes almost drone-like. But before they have time to really sink into it, drummer Santi Leyba snaps them into into “John Codeine’”s abrasive snarl. The clarity with which Funkhouser spits “I’m wearing her like my best shirt” after “Tetsuo’”s interlude is deeply menacing.

Above all this, though, Total is a record desperate for majesty, fleeting as it may be. It’s there in “Leaning Mess” when Funkhouser clings to abandon, chasing highs “because it was beautiful/It feels good.” It’s there when we’re given “obsession as a reflex” on the sludgy and subtle “Vasari Joust,” and it’s beneath “Bleak’”s closing remark that “faith will never be enough to quench my thirst.” Hausu’s ability to chart the depths of the shattered mind is impressive, but their constant desire for something more beautiful sets Total apart as a truly remarkable record.

Hausu’s Total is out now on Hardly Art Records.