Black Hoodie Ensemble is the recording moniker for Austin, TX-based Jet Jobob Rodel. The group’s 2020 issue Captain runs seven tracks, and is inspired by “the hostile monotony of the beating sun” in late-August Texas. Rodel describes the record--aptly--as “a dark and beautiful fever dream.” He incorporates elements of psychedelia, blues, symphonic rock and even some danceable, disco-infused beats to press his dream into wax. Rodel wrote the music and performed most of the instruments with Taylor Barham helping on drums.
“The Taker” starts the EP, and it’s ominous right from the start, as Rodel sings “trouble’s on the way” over sparse, arpeggiated guitar notes. He gently pulls us in with the first verse, and then boom, the rest of the instruments kick and it gets darker and heavier. There’s fuzz guitar mixed low and left, piano mixed high and right, and layered vocals dead-center. In an interesting twist, the quieter middle section features horns--letting us know that we will be hearing quite a variety of tones and textures on Captain.
Up next, “Murder House (Ode to Summer)” sets a brooding, creepy guitar riff against smooth horns. Again there’s fuzz guitar low on our left with piano high on the right. Rodel quotes Seals and Crofts here (yes, yes, he does) and channels the sun beating us down into a groggy stupor. About halfway through, we get an ominous bass figure that picks us up into a rocking outro jam. Barham’s drums in particular shine here.
Black Hoodie Ensemble heads to the disco for “Red Lights.” The arpeggiated piano is in our right ear again, and Rodel layers in some mellotron with his on-point guitar. The lyrics work the metaphor well, and give us a plot twist complete with police sirens.
“Bathroom Fight Song” is a cool track. It’s mostly bass-and-drum (with some guitar worked in), with a one-sided conversation voice over. We’ve all been there--and then it gets grisly. The Texas heat is getting to us, so we leave the bathroom for the heavy, riff-y, bluesy “Gnaw Job.” The piano picks up the riff here, too, which is a nice change-of-pace. The song feels like it will be an instrumental; Rodel throws in a little chant section near the end to keep us on our toes.
“What Goes There,” which is next, is an instrumental. There’s a long, atmospheric build, which reminded me of some of my favorite Pink Floyd tracks. The intensity increases throughout with ripping guitars solos provided by Justin Cox.
“May Queen” caps the album. Completing the song cycle, it starts off with a guitar-and-vocal feel similar to the lead track. Rodel sings, “I need relief from my nightmares” and delivers some lovely slide-guitar leads over an atmospheric track.
Is there resolution here? I don’t know, but Black Hoodie Ensemble succeeds in letting us feel the heat of a Texas summer--and the mental derangement that can come with it. It’s a terrific spin.
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