Husky Loops’ Gorillaz-Like Indie Trip-Hop Shines on Their Debut
I Can’t Even Speak English is unmistakably music made for the nightMusic Reviews Husky Loops
True to its name, looping is what makes Husky Loops so intoxicating. The glaring gospel refrain of “I Think You’re Wonderful,” the threatening bark of “Enemy is Yourself” and the skittering, euphoric flow of “Everyone’s Having Fun Fun Fun But Me” are all heightened by their meticulous vocal construction. The Italian-born and U.K.-based trio defy genre and seek to expand the sonic capabilities of a guitar-based band. Having previously released a mixtape and three EPs—their self-titled debut, EP2 and Spool—they made their U.S. live debut at SXSW and supported David Byrne, Spoon, The Kills, Placebo and more. Husky Loops have been honing their electro-rock racket for several years now.
Their debut full-length, I Can’t Even Speak English, out now via Danger Mouse’s 30th Century Records, is a bewildering fusion of trip-hop, indie rock, dance, R&B, electronic and hip-hop, at times evoking Gorillaz and Frank Ocean and elsewhere recalling Massive Attack and Primal Scream. Despite hailing from the “boot” of Europe, the band sounds distinctly British, with the sharp rhythms and crazed vocal manipulations of U.K. garage, the heady thump of English electronic greats and a series of British spoken-word samples. It has a wide palette—it’s ravey, abrasive and soulful—but it’s unmistakably music for the night, the streets and festival tents.
Our introduction to Husky Loops comes from an unspecified “Lily” who sounds like a character straight out of The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come For Free or Jamie T’s Panic Prevention. She gives a brief, tipsy stump speech on behalf of the record you’re about to dive into: “The more you listen to it, the more bangers emerge from it… Every song has got a proper, like, construction.”
We’re quickly frisked away from that offbeat character by a loop of chopped horns and cocksure vocals from frontman, producer and main songwriter Danio Forni on “Good as Gold.” With circling brass as its foundation, they add bombastic beats, a funky guitar lick and warped vocals, resulting in the perfect marriage of glitchy structure and smooth confidence.
If you can’t withstand dramatically pitch-shifted vocals, I Can’t Even Speak English might not be for you. “I Think You’re Wonderful” takes gospel-like vocal repetition to insane heights, a glaring contrast to Forni’s simple, heartfelt verses and other various sequences of jazz scatting and Afrobeat-like chants.
Songs like “Temporary Volcano” and “Enemy is Yourself” showcase Husky Loops’ abrasive side. The former features a menacing synth line, vigorously-delivered hip-hop vocals, aggressive beats and lyrics about having it all and losing it all, while “Enemy is Yourself” pairs throttling synths with lines that clearly denounce Brexit (or nationalism on the whole): “You’re looking at your neighbor but the enemy is yourself / We fucked up once and don’t try again.”
Their softer side is just as convincing. Armed with piano and Forni’s trustworthy vocals, “Let Go For Nothing” has the uplift and charm of a Britpop ballad, though still laced with slick synths and electronic textures. The R&B-tinged “A Little Something” is Forni at his most vocally poignant, perfectly capturing a sense of entrapment and loneliness that densely-populated cities often provide.
While their melodies evoke feelings of restlessness, fear, pride and desire, and their boisterous rhythms are easy to latch onto, Husky Loops leave much to be desired lyrically. Husky Loops resonate because their sound is bold and unexpected—you’re hit with mercurial synths, vocals that twist at any given moment and riffs that make it difficult to distinguish between guitars and keyboards. They don’t seem to employ that same level of adventurousness in their lyrics—instead appearing distant or blending into the background. “A Little Something” is one of Forni’s best vocal moments, but the music does most of the emotional grunt work thanks to lines like “I believe I dust my broom / There’s an elephant in my room / I deny the point at home / We’re all looking for something new.”
Perhaps their abstract lyrical approach is a deliberate desire to capture a sense of wandering. You can’t place them into a single genre, and their lyrics employ a vagueness that makes it difficult to draw connections or interpretations. Forni even appears to give a peek inside his songwriting mind on “The Reasonable Thing”: “I keep my wording hypocritical / I write them daily on my bedroom wall / Draft essays filled with proof and ignore it all.”
Penultimate track, “Everybody’s Having Fun Fun Fun But Me,” is the one instance where the band’s eccentric looping and keen sense of melody are actually met with affecting lyrics. The spliced vocals are masterful and exhilarating, and like all good dance-pop, they let listeners revel in the repetitive, euphoric chorus for an ample amount of time. Forni paints a clear picture of a disappointing night out—cheap cocaine, hollow romance, a nauseous bus ride and a holiday get-together that’s overwhelmingly melancholy despite being around people you care about. It’s that moment when you’re feeling down, but don’t want to dampen the mood, further burying yourself into loneliness and self-loathing as a result. It’s Husky Loops’ finest track to date, and it provides an insight into just how sonically commanding and emotionally astute they can be.
I Can’t Even Speak Engilsh is packed with ambitious and consistently memorable indie trip-hop, and if they can extend that imagination and vulnerability to their lyrics, they will have listeners eating out of the palms of their hands for years to come.