Tenderhooks: “North Star” – a wondrous roller-coaster adventure that rewards attention

Ten months into what’s shaping up to be one of the strangest years on record, it’s hard to shake the sense each morning that literally anything is possible. You might wake up to news of a clandestine vote to revoke health care, or catty government in-fighting, or heartless domestic terror, or the palpable threat of nuclear cataclysm. The current culture of citizen documentarians, voyeurism, and ease of access to images of worldwide calamity show that human decency, can be shucked as cleanly and quickly as shrimp shells. The new Tenderhooks album, their 5th, entitled “North Star”, expresses our human disorders as textural experiences, a battery of entertaining sounds, tastes, and sights. It’s wracked with images of life both bittersweet and steadfastly joyful.

Tenderhooks are a 6 piece alt-rock, pop, blues and everything but the kitchen sink originals band from Brighton in the sunny south coast of England. They could be likened to the typical American Jam Band that eschews genres in exchange for a more all-embracing sound – a little avant-garde, a little experimental, and a little retro, they go from rock guitars to saxophones and anything else in-between. Tenderhooks is too slippery a group of writers to traffic in deliberate mainstream commentary, hence their left-field musical coloring on many of these songs offer tongue-in-cheek impressionistic lyrics and expansive, elaborate instrumental arrangements.

The comfort and familiarity they’ve amassed through playing together pays off in spades as they tear through these layered arrangements, fully in step together. The mutual trust and free-flowing collaboration serve as the backdrop for lyrics that has an air of incisive personal and cultural examination.

The band’s push-and-pull musical mechanics is a seamlessly flowing acrobatic waltz, dizzying as they weave their strengths together in a balance difficult to achieve and impressive to listen to. On “North Star”, they’ve expanded that to a point where each member’s talents are allowed to flourish.

The result is a wondrous roller-coaster adventure that rewards attention yet is never inscrutable. Deciding whether their lyrics or melodies are more fun is like choosing a favorite child: you just can’t. From the acoustically strummed “Mother Dear” to the eclectic romp of “Yolena” and the harmony-filled “Little Stunner”, no description on paper could accurately capture the magic that Tenderhooks deliver on this album.

In other words there is something odd about them that is tough to describe without watching some of their incredible videos. The riffs and parts are tight, distinctive little affairs with so much tone and timbre as to build a cinematic degree of tension.

These are well-oiled arrangements that draw their texture from an array of majestically played instruments, building lushly layered harmonies. It’s a beautiful sound that shows it’s depth on repeat listens. Especially when you encounter the final three standout tracks “Rubber Necking”, “Cry Cry Cry” and “North Star”, which, in my opinion, practically showcase the true musical dimension of this band, revealing a rich complexity that becomes increasingly engaging with each subsequent listen.

One of the things I love most about music is its ability to transport its listeners, whether to a distant memory or a new imaginary scene in your mind altogether. Tenderhooks, who are now signed with Dazed-music based in Sweden, is capable of both, and if one were to ask me to pick a current album that collectively makes me seriously reminisce about the past and smilingly contemplate the future , I’d have to hand them “North Star”.


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