Desert Hounds are a four-piece band hailing from Lake Elsinore, California that blend elements of rock, bluegrass, country, and folk on their debut full-length album, Hang On. Although it is not specified who does what or when, all members of the band write, and share lead singing duties on the album which, unfortunately, makes this album extremely uneven and difficult to appreciate as a whole.
The record starts off somewhat rocky with the opening number, “Coming Home;” a decent, but forgettable bluegrass number followed by a heavier track called “Roots.” This second track sounds a lot like Canadian rock group, The Trews, minus the excellent lead vocals and catchy choruses. There’s even an instrumental section in the song after the second chorus that just screams for a guitar solo or even some wild ‘ad-lib’ vocals, yet the band just plays the same repetitive riff and lets the song end without bringing the chorus back. Weird.
What comes next is an overly-sappy and lyrically-cringe worthy piano ballad. “Ring” is, of course, a song written for a band member’s significant other. Normally, I have no problem with a songwriter who wears his heart on his sleeve, but this is an example of how not to write a ballad: cheesy, unoriginal lyrics sung poorly accompanied by just as unoriginal, repetitive music. Thankfully, things get a little better by the fourth number, “Younger,” a slightly heavier Mumford and Sons type ballad that benefits from a vocal upgrade, as well as an actual chorus, making it much more enjoyable.
Remember when I mentioned that all the band members write and sing on this record?
Well, if you didn’t then you would be very confused by this point as the next couple of songs sound totally left-field; a different band altogether. “Took My Soul,” and “Pain, Pain, Pain” are bluesy, angry pieces recounting the heartaches of love lost. They aren’t bad by any means, but like a lot of the songwriting on this record, they just sound incomplete. It is almost as if the band didn’t know where to go and just decided to either repeat the same sections or end the song abruptly. Also, they don’t get the dirty, grittier sound that these type of songs need to catch the listener’s ear. Sure, there’s a nice acoustic guitar riff in “Pain, Pain, Pain” but that’s it. They just don’t sound impressive from an instrumental standpoint at all.
I’ll admit that, if I hadn’t been tasked with reviewing this album, I would not have gotten past the first few songs. I am, however, glad I stuck until the end because there were a few moments that showed potential if the band focused on their strengths instead of forcing a bunch of different songs and styles together. An example of this is “Blood Bath.” The song exudes a cool factor with it’s slow build and tight groove. The lyrics are sadly, like the rest of the record though; very generic and sometimes annoyingly predictable. They make up for it with the laid back performance of the lead singer, and the falsetto backing vocals that are similar to something from the Eagles’ heyday.“The Ballad of Distant Love” is about as sappy as the title would suggest and the lyrics are equally as cringe-worthy as the title. Thankfully, the album ends on a stronger note. “Hang On” is a blue-grassy number with a catchy melody that leads itself well to an end of night sing-along and has all band members exchanging verses.
On this album, Desert Hounds are victims of their grandiose ambitions. Blending different styles and having every member sing is a risky endeavour, one that they did not accomplish very well. Aiming high is admirable, but when you miss the mark this badly, it makes the fall much, much worse.
Written by Ben Massicotte
*edited by Danielle Kenedy