Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hugo Largo - Drum

I was utterly infatuated with Hugo Largo during college, so much so that when the band broke up in 1989 I went off on a lengthy eulogy while working on-air of a public radio station, a friend who was listening to the broadcast jokingly told me later, “I felt like bringing you a box of Kleenex. You just kept going on and on about it.”

Admittedly, I’m not so obsessed with Hugo Largo. I can even admit that there are much better bands since these New York City legends of ambient slowcore that are better at the genre, but few of them can claim to be as influential as Hugo Largo, considering that there were barely any other artists around during their active period that mirrored their style of music.

This is precisely why I was so gaga about them. They were a novel entry during a time when the “ambient” term began being used as a way to describe a newly blossoming genre of artists instead of one primary artist: Brian Eno.

How appropriate that Hugo Largo was one of the first signed to Eno’s new (then) record label called Opal, but how easy it must have been to ink them considering their debut recording was produced by none other than R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe.

And that’s where I come in.

Because there was a good chunk of my life where I followed pretty much everything R.E.M. did religiously, which means that I have copies of Stipe’s sister’s band Hetch Hertchy and can even claim to possess an uber-rare twelve-inch single of a solo recording for R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry, listed as “Stashus Mute” on the credits.

But Stipe’s a bit more of a creative force-isn’t he? At least that’s what I thought when I discovered that Eno’s new Opal Records was re-releasing Hugo Largo’s Stipe produced e.p., with a few newly recorded tracks tacked on to make it a proper full-length.

The sticker calls it “Son Of Drum,” but you’ll find the title as Drum, a stunning introduction to Stipe’s find. Hugo Largo was a quartet of New York City art student-types, probably the kind of pretention that you imagine taking place in a town of such noted importance as N.Y.C.

But fuck me if they didn’t make a hugely intriguing racket, that is, if you consider a wide-ranging female vocalist like Largo’s Mimi Goese to violinist Hahn Rowe adding some eerie overtones. And on top of all of that potential artsy-fartsy mess were a pair of bass guitarists, including one alternative MTV VJ Tim Sommer, who had a tad bit of street cred by being a former member of Even Worse with Thurston Moore as well being a seminal host of the punk radio show on WNYU’s Noise The Show.

Still, with that entire MTV thing kind of lending an air of privilege, it was way easy to poke holes in Hugo Largo’s plan to be considered as “real” pop art.

Again, the proof is in this delicious pudding, thick with swelling ebbs and unsettling flows. When Goese works her way into a cathartic earful, it’s attention-grabbing. It also makes the listener carefully consider the softer moments, looking for any hidden clues as to why the next measure could turn into a vocal exercise.

Drum is one of those rare examples where the farther you progress into the record, the better it becomes. By the time the penultimate number hits, “Second Skin,” Hugo Largo have reached a point where you can practically hear other bands taking their cues from them, stalking out greater success in their wake, rendering the originators into a cult status.

It is after Drum final moments that you understand the power this band possessed, tapping into the very real notion of “less is more” and exploring the loud and soft dynamics that much heavier bands would examine in just a few short years after Hugo Largo’s demise.

The intriguing thing is how Drums shows that the loud/soft dynamic words to an even more powerful effect within the ambient realm, and Hugo Largo may have been the precursor to the entire slowcore movement, something these art rock experiments weren’t even anticipating when they called it quits so quickly.

Otherwise, Hugo Largo would have stuck around for a bit longer, saving me from such a long-winded goodbye.

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