From the very first time I heard Hunters‘ debut full length album, I was in love. The grainy, gritty street-punk-meets-grunge mixture produced by the band touched every single pleasure center in my brain. Derek Watson’s guitar growled just the right way and Izzy Almeida’s vocals smoothed the hardened, angry burrs in my mind with a sound that wasn’t sweet so much as it was like fine-grain sandpaper – it was perfect.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I was so won over by the band that I felt compelled to tell everyone I could about them. I wrote a couple of different articles about the band and published them in a couple of different locations, and the album ended up taking top honours in my list of the ten best of the year. Without meaning to overstate the point, I was a fan of the band; even when I had listened to the album so often that I knew every lyric by rote, I still couldn’t get enough. I wanted more, but I wasn’t sure what more there was – so I asked the band themselves. They pointed me in the direction of the Hands On Fire EP – their first release – and even went so far as to send me a copy.
When it arrived, I found myself excitedly tearing into the EP with questions on my mind and hopes in my heart. “Will it be as good as the full-length?” I wondered. “Was the full-length a step forward from the band’s first release? Did the fact that the self-titled album was recorded at Steve Albini’s studio end up changing them? Did engineer Greg Norman influence the band or steer them in a particular direction?”
Those are the questions I considered as I gently placed the EP on my turntable and gingerly sunk the needle into the groove but, as it would turn out, the Hands On Fire EP quickly proved that I needn’t have worried. While Norman’s fingerprints did begin to rise on the self-titled album with comparative study, it quickly became apparent: the lion’s share of work which went into making Hunters’ self-titled debut sound the way it did was put in by the band itself. While Hunters featured some obvious improvements in craft and performance, Hands On Fire illustrates that the jump between releases was not large.
Fans who were won over by Hunters will be able to recognize the similarities between it and Hands On Fire right away as Watson’s sludgy guitar tone creeps in to introduce “Deadbeat” like it just crawled out of a Bowery gutter. It’s not exactly that the sound seems like it was recorded poorly, just that it was made with an inexpensive instrument: images of headstocks with names like Dean, Pyle, Lado and First Act materialize in the mind’s eye as Watson sets the song’s tone and rhythm.
For listeners who loved the sound of Sub Pop’s early releases and Robert Quine’s lean, squirrelly guitar attack with The Voidoids, the noise Watson digs up and blasts out will be a welcome one, but the call-and-response vocal styling he sets up with Alemeida is the real (tarnished) treasure to find, echoing the skuzzy, sleezy sound that Jon Spencer and Cristina Martinez made both with both Pussy Galore as well as on Boss Hog’s Whiteout album – but Watson and Almeida consistently remain more “street” than “sensational” here.
The basic beginning of their sound set up early with “Deadbeat,” Hunters seek to further tune it as the tape rolls to capture the rest of Hands On Fire and the remaining songs make a pretty strong presentation of it – even if the EP doesn’t tread too far from its own beginnings. Songs like “Brat Mouth,” “Headache” and “Acid Head” all play with the street-y, skaggy, skronky and sort of menacing streak which ran through early NYC punk and really early grunge records, but that’s contrasted (presumably on purpose) by the vocal interplay of Watson and Almeida; their tone isn’t exactly poppy, but the tight presentation certainly leans that way in spite of being very corrosive too.
After “Acid Head” has trudged its way through sounding more than a little like a Pussy Galore-issued dirge by way of Kathleen Hanna’s side of the street, Hunters unceremoniously walk away – leaving listeners to silently beg for more even after the needle lifts from the EP. Some would call that end unsatisfying (you can almost hear those who heard the full-length first screaming, “No! Wait! They could go so much further!”) but, really, the EP proved to be the perfect bait; there’s just enough room left by the Hands On Fire EP to have those who heard it first itching for more, and it’s also enough of a blueprint which shows where Hunters came from to satisfy those who sought the EP after first being hooked by the band’s full-length album.
Best of all, the pair of releases will have listeners wondering what’s to come next from the band; they won’t be satisfied – they’ll still want more – but at least they’ll have a greater base from which to sample if they track down a copy of this EP.
Very limited numbers of the Hands On Fire EP remain available on vinyl, but the band does also have it available on CD and digitally. Buy directly from the band here .