While listening to Hoops, you might at first be tempted to play a game of musical analogs, obsessively identifying what artists they sound like in a given moment. Rife with the familiar sounds of ‘80s synths and contemporary jangly guitars, the Indiana-based band provides plenty of fodder for such an activity. In the past, they’ve been compared to everything from Real Estate and Wild Nothing to Tears for Fears. But for the most part, the game never finds a satisfactory conclusion; a perfect match never settles. Above all, you will find, Hoops just sound like themselves.
That sound is something they’ve developed over a series of popular cassette tapes from the last few years, a 2016 EP, and finally, in their debut full-length, Routine, out on Fat Possum. The band’s history extends further back, though. The three core members—Drew Auscherman, Keagan Beresford, and Kevin Krauter—have been friends since the sixth grade. Hoops began with guitarist Auscherman as a solo ambient music project that he produced in his Bloomington bedroom. Drawn to the same music, the trio soon joined forces to form a casual band that eventually turned serious.
Listening to Routine, the band’s guitarist-led origins come as no surprise. Throughout the album’s 11 well-honed pop tracks, the guitar carries as much weight as the vocals. In songs such as “Rules,” “On Top,” and “Management,” the singer’s voice is subdued, subsumed by shoegaze fuzz, but the guitar is shimmering and bright as it weaves through catchy riffs. In others like “All My Life,” the voice and guitar share and trade the melody, shifting dynamically as they come together and pull apart. In “Benjals,” guitar serves as the only melody in an all-instrumental track, but the concise song still manages to latch on with its version of a verse-chorus structure.
But Routines doesn’t function on wordless catchy melodies alone; just as important to Hoops’ breed of pop are the stories at the foundations of their songs. As they said in an interview, the trio listens as much to Nick Drake as they do Michael Jackson and Sade. And in many of their songs, these contemplative origins show. “Still remember the clothes you wore,” they sing in a song about moving past feelings, “On Letting Go”; the line in the chorus, “All my life keeps getting away from me,” gives “All My Life” its title; and in the optimistically titled “Sun’s Out,” they sadly sing, “Meet me in the sunlight / Meet me where the moon shines / I can never be the one you want.” Reflecting on time and the anxieties of past love, screwing up love, and potential love in unadorned but expressive lyrics, Routines sometimes feels like New Order (here’s that game resurfacing) and other ‘80s new wave bands that couch sad-sack sentiments in sparkling synths and danceable beats. Bright and sunny but with the right touch of wistfulness, Hoops’ new album is the perfect mix to accompany us into the summer.