The Hunches Call it a Day

The band's final tour celebrates its nonexistent future.

Capturing a band’s sound at any given moment requires some gutsy
maneuvering. And the media can forget that. Even writers who are able
to keep this in mind often simplify an album’s sound to easily
categorize a band. The Hunches are fed up with that. The Portland
quartet, which digests and regurgitates everything from punk to garage
to no wave to rock ‘n’ roll, has felt the heavy hand of the press. The
resulting welt, and the consternation that it’s caused band members,
has pushed them toward a breakup.

So the band’s current West Coast tour, which includes a stop at the
Hemlock Tavern this Friday, will close the book on a band that was able
to change its approach to music only enough to please its principal
members and a few gracious fans — but apparently not the
press.

Chris Gunn, the band’s guitarist, still resents the one-dimensional
reviews that wrote off his band as “just another run-of-the-mill garage
band or as drunk cavemen undeserving of attention or serious thought.”
Live performances by the band, which according to Gunn usually involve
drinking “a lot of beer” and singer Hart Gledhill trying to “chloroform
you with his filthy sock,” might have encouraged the press to
stereotype the band. As these tableaus unfold on a nightly basis during
a tour, it becomes difficult to examine a band whose singer is apt to
scream in your face.

Yet there are instances from each of the group’s full-length
releases that do in fact require insight to unpack. What makes that
difficult is that much of the music presents a dense wall of sound.
There might be a grand proclamation on Yes. No. Shut It!, the
band’s 2002 debut, but the album’s unrelenting grit denies most
listeners entry.

Still, there were a few sedate moments on each of the Hunches’
discs. Consider “As the Droning Fades On” from the group’s penultimate
long player, Hobo Sunrise, which thuds along in a surprisingly
melodic way.

The pinnacle of the Hunches catalog came in the form of Exit
Dreams
, released in January of this year by In the Red Records. Its
broadened and at times subtle palate defies any sort of categorization
or negative critique. “From This Window,” one of the better displays of
the group’s tempered approach to music, plays with a loud/soft dynamic
and even pauses momentarily in mid-song after which Gunn’s guitar
slowly sputters out a few sparse notes. Meanwhile, Gledhill dreams
aloud about wants and needs while gazing at the skyline. Exit
Dreams
is easily the definitive statement by a group that struggled
to impact both garage and punk.

In the face of bland and thoughtless critiques, the Hunches have
been able to record for the better part of a decade on an imprint that,
in some circles, carries as much clout as Sub Pop. But there can be no
disagreement with the end of a group if one of its principal players
figures, “it really was not that fun anymore.” Gunn said some of that
is as a result of not being taken at “face value as a band that was
able to expand its sound out of that garage that we started in.”
Although that’s a reasonable desire, relying on outside sources for
their gratification might have been part of the band’s problem.

Calling it a day doesn’t make really sense for a band that possesses
the ability to re-imagine itself from record to record and add new
instrumentation and approaches to its craft. Gunn, though, puts the
making of Exit Dreams and his band’s career in perspective by
saying, “This album was the end of our childhood aspirations to be in a
band.” He reluctantly goes on to explain various possible meanings that
the title of the album might have by figuring, “Exit dreams are drugs,
alcohol, music, or anything that takes you away for awhile.”

Having overcome a variety of impediments, both internal and
external, the Hunches have achieved the ultimate musical statement of
their career — only to follow it up with a farewell tour.

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