With the release of Chicago based progressive-rock quartet Hidden Hospitals’ (HH) first full-length, Surface Tension, it is clear that they are at the top of their game. The recording, produced and mixed in Nashville, Tennessee by J. Hall, is fantastically balanced. I always felt their recordings were good, but there has been a clear path of improvement with each release. It is apparent that everyone who worked to put this out strived to deliver their best work. Vocalist and guitarist Dave Raymond told me that it took 18 months to write Surface Tension and an additional six months or so to produce. This massive effort shows as every instrument, every vocal, and every beat permeates the brain. There is just a great fidelity on this record.
Nearly 70 songs were written to create Surface Tension, but only 12 ended up on the album. When you listen to the final product you get the sense that crafting this album was like Mr. Miyagi pruning his bonsai tree. I can 100% say that this album rocks! Songs like “Trilogy” make it evident that HH is bringing it a bit harder this go around, with the track closing out more like something off of a Russian Circles album. Their songs are also as inspirational as ever, with favorites “Broken Skeleton” and “From Toxin” triggering all sorts of emotions making you feel like all the shit that life throws at you can always be overcome. “Places revealed to those seeking resuscitation, rejuvenation, decompression, atonement” is a statement listed on their Bandcamp page as a descriptor for Hidden Hospitals and ain’t that the truth.
Now, some back story for you all. Most people don’t know the band Hidden Hospitals, but I find that lots of people are familiar with Damiera, which you could say is the genesis of the band. Damiera was originally based out of Buffalo, New York and included HH members Dave Raymond (vocals/guitar) and Steve Downs (guitar). Raymond and Downs relocated to Chicago in 2009, and auditioned for new members. “We auditioned nearly 100 people, but no one was making the cut. When we finally got the band together, only then did we make the decision to start new,” said Raymond. Jared Karns of Kiss Kiss (Drums) and John Scott (Bass/Vocals) were the last two pieces that ultimately formed Hidden Hospitals. I spoke to Dave about the fact that more people know seem to know about Damiera than HH.
“Damiera had a platform (Equal Vision Records). HH is all D.I.Y. so our reach is only as far as we can reach. Damiera fans won’t find what I used to write in this band. I can’t do that any longer, not the same person, and it’s a big part of why we ended Damiera.”
If there is one thing that’s certain, Hidden Hospitals D.I.Y. methods are hella consistent. Not just consistent in their song writing, sound and recordings, but in every aspect of what makes them a band. I’ve been following the band since I filmed them at Township in Chicago during the 2011 release of EP01 and the thing that has always truly impressed me is the finite level of detail they give to everything. Many bands focus heavily on or the other, music or design, but rarely do both well. With social media being so important these days, it’s crucial to strike a balance between the two. HH has such a critical focus on the design elements as well, and it really helps create a synergistic connection. Raymond elaborated on this.
“Clearspace charges the idea that you want to focus. In our case, I make small statements stand out by forcing them inside of a large frame. Rock music, hip hop, electronica – it’s most often shoveled into mass heaps of ‘the MOST every ALL the time’. Being that we were starting new, I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to give ourselves a skin to move in. I think it helps marry the elements that we use, and it comes from within – it’s organically there (for lack of a much better word..).”
“For Surface Tension’s cover, I wanted the opportunity to use imagery but not the image itself. It’s askew. It’s not entirely abstract, it’s a real thing – most of what I speak of are real things, out in the open. Always there. The span of experimentation on this record paved way to at least something tactile – and my friend Jaret Ferratusco (Portland based photographer and author) shoots only film. He had shot Damiera a few times, then I had him shoot Damiera’s Quiet Mouth Loud Hands cover. He also just shot three music videos for us, including one for the track “Rose Hips” which just was released.”
“So, all that…and I’m just a designer by trade. So I can’t not mess with things and put them in order.”
Dig into Hidden Hospitals a bit more on your own, and I mean really dig in. Listen to their releases, check out their Instagram and take note of their design, maybe even listen to some old Damiera tracks. I think you will find a greater appreciation for this inspiring band.
I’ll end this with a random review note I found on iTunes, as I don’t think I could say it any better than doc_zk here.
“Amazing from beginning to end. Hidden Hospitals is on their game with Surface Tension. There isn’t a single track on the album that doesn’t move you. Brilliantly crafted, played, and mixed. In a world of disposable music, Surface Tension breaks through. The tracks are dense with dynamic musicality and meaningful lyrics. Break away from the corporate, radio-friendly junk and buy this album. Real artists still exist. You will thank me later.”
You can listen to and purchase Hidden Hospitals entire discography on Bandcamp and stream Surface Tension below: