Hope Of The States - The Lost Riots

Alex Worsnip 07/06/2004

Rating: 4/5

I hold my hands up. Guilty as charged. Yes, I have not shyed away from hyping up Hope of the States. But then, what else are you supposed to do, when an earth-shaking, orchestral, fiery, young, political indie-cum-post-rock music juggernaut comes along? Sit back and watch? Hope of the States are without doubt one of the most exciting new bands to arise within the last couple of years. They do this because they take the usual post-rock foundation of Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor, and turn in on its head by allying it to limitless ambition, charisma and - yes - tunes. Their songs are compact, passionate and melodic. Their singles were divine. But does the album live up to the hype?

In a word: almost. Things get off to a cracking start with the magnificent instrumental 'The Black Amnesias', which boasts one of the hugest, more expansive sounds ever produced, with fired-up guitars and epic drumming leading a sway of strings, synths and feedback into battle. At their quieter moments, Hope of the States resemble Coldplay with balls - indeed, Coldplay producer Ken Thomas is at the controls here. This is particularly evident on 'Don't Go To Pieces', a weary, optimistic ballad made truly poignant by its significance in the context of the tragic premature suicide of guitarist Jimmi Lawrence, who plays on the vast majority of the album.

Hope of the States craft their own unique sound, loud yet beautiful, with their unique twist of having a violinist in the band. It is not just to supply traditional swaying strings to add depth to the music like most bands use the rent-a-soaring-string-section sound. Instead violinist Michael Siddell plays violin like a lead instrument, with intricate lines that weave in and out of the lead guitars, creating an incredible and inventive fusion. Hope of the States can't be written off as depressing - indeed, the soaring optimism of 'Enemies/Friends' and the excellent 'Sadness On My Back' is just to the contrary.

The real stunner, though, is debut single 'Black Dollar Bills'. Re-recorded here (and arguably not quite so good in its new form), it builds from its balladic, atmospheric origins to a spine-tingling massivity, sounding like Mercury Rev if they were contracted to write the national anthem for the future united world. Lyrically frontman Herlihy sets a political tone here, which comes out again on the more explicit 'The Red The White The Black The Blue', an angry, apocalyptic rock monster complete with Muse-esque doomy pianos. Hope of the States seem to have a strange obsession with 18th century American history, wearing army uniforms onstage and boasting song titles such as 'George Washington' and '1776' (the year the Americans wrote their constitution).

Thrillingly, Hope of the States continue to pull out tunes over the course of the album, from the rural twang of '66 Sleepers To Summer' to the upbeat rock strum of 'Nehemiah' ("people come on make a stand/come on people we can try again/you're not alone when the lights go off/we'll stay together when it all stops"). The sound gets somewhat repetitive towards the end of the album, but it is their own - and that is unusual in the rock world at the moment. Hope of the States are a unique, special proposition - not wishing to be just another band playing music, not wishing to emulate the past, but looking to the future, and gatecrashing the mainstream with purpose and attitude.

There is just one further gripe: Sam Herlihy's voice is not as strong as it might be, and it is much more conventionally indie-rock than the rest of the band are. It gets stretched on occasions, particularly 'Me Ves 4 Sufres'. However, there is emotion in it and it is sincere, and the music itself is so divine that, amazingly, it seems only a minor quibble. Hope of the States are genuinely special, and can really make an impact on the music scene for good, in a way that other albums by the better acts of 2004, however good they may be, cannot. I believed this could be a 5-star album. It's not quite, but it's damn close.