Mad Hugs – Mad Hugs – Album Review
“…just a good instrumental album to get faded to or what not.”
Ahem. I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.
Looks like it’s been a busy year for Mad Hugs…errr…more like months that is, from what it looks like online. This is the fourth record that was released on this inside of a month in 2022? Should be completely flawless then, right? Music being made at such a rapid pace is always like that, and there will be absolutely no filler on the fourth record for surely…
I’m thinkin’ it’s gonna be at least a two-beer review here. We’ll see how it goes…
Anyhow. This self-titled record actually starts out pretty much perfectly if you ask me – “Dive Into Life Again” is an exceptional tune. Beautiful melody, gentle beat, dynamic bass synth in the background…it’s the kind of cut that, were everything to sound like this, I’d be 100% onboard without a doubt. While I can’t say that’s exactly the case, there are many highlights to be found on the Mad Hugs record in the lineup along the way…it’s just tougher to say whether or not I ended up finding another song in the set-list that I truly enjoyed as much as the opening cut. You’ll have a listen to “Dive Into Life Again” and get an idea of the methods & approach that are being used to make these songs…the main core loop, with additional elements surrounding them…that kind of thing. What makes “Dive Into Life Again” generally different than the rest is that you’ll find a bit more variation in the repetition & core melody, and the avant-garde elements that seem to show up along the way are all a spectacular fit that suited the song bang-on. That’s not always an easy thing to do & get right on the money, and you’ll see that becomes a harder standard to maintain as the lineup carries on. Sometimes the reality can be that we front-load our best cuts to the number one spot on a record…sometimes we just get lucky in trying to guess what that’s gonna be…in any event, I’d probably be inclined to say “Dive Into Life Again” is my favorite track on this self-titled record, or at the very least, extremely close to that after having a healthy spin through the set-list to have a listen to what Mad Hugs is all about. There’s something undeniably endearing to be found in this first track…it’s like curiosity come alive in your speakers & the wonder of music, aloud.
“Too Many Wrong Meds” however…might be making more of a literal statement in audible form. I’m not quite sure what to say about this track other than it’s essentially a full 180-degree turn from the way the album started. Replacing the easy-to-love vibes in the opening track, “Too Many Wrong Meds” challenges every fiber of your being & both ears on your face. Don’t get me wrong…I’m a HUGE advocate on behalf of the strange…when it works. When it doesn’t, I gotta call it out…and unfortunately, that’s the case with “Too Many Wrong Meds” – I ain’t about it. Heck, I’m a massive fan of “Ventolin” by Aphex Twin, and I’m STILL not about this track here. Mad Hugs is ultimately taking some LARGE chances with this cut…with its inclusion, with where it sits in the lineup of the set-list, and with the frequencies & tones being rocked with. What I DO like, is that clearly no fucks are being given here…Mad Hugs plays this track with full confidence, the production IS good too…it’s just the tones man – good lord, this cut makes my stomach turn and gives me that nails on a chalkboard feeling. We all have those sounds that we come across in life that we just can’t handle – “Too Many Wrong Meds” is full of them for me, that’s the reality I’m facing here. I’m not saying it’s gonna be the case for everyone out there – if you dig on this, right on, you can collect your high-five from me later after I come out of hiding and rejoin the civilized world – but I ain’t doing that until I’m sure we’ve moved onto the next cut. Bold move to have a track like this so early on into the lineup – it might have me squeamish, it might excite some of the strangest among us…it’s weird, it’s ambitious, and it’s more bizarre than I can handle.
I like “Incomprehensible” – I felt like things got back on track close enough here, or at the very least, I started to have a better grip on Mad Hugs and what this music is all about. Definitely trying to do things differently – it’s kind of like a free-form electro-jam…I feel like I can say that, because I’ve set up the toys & decks in my own studio and had a ton of’em myself. Some things, like the main melody & beat of “Incomprehensible” work out perfectly – and other things, like the elements added into the background, can be completely hit & miss. When you’ve hit record however, and everything is happening all at once, there’s really no backing out of it – this is what you get, like it or leave it. Usually, in those situations, just like you’ll find here on this cut, the core idea is basically perfection…it’s everything else that comes into play that could be questionable. Some sounds worked out, some didn’t, and in the end, we get both unapologetically at full-force. Based on “Dive Into Life Again” at the very start of this record, it’s clear that Mad Hugs knows what accessible is and how to going about creating vibes like that – and based on tracks like “Too Many Wrong Meds,” it’s equally clear the dude knows how to push us away as well if he chooses to. “Incomprehensible” sits somewhere in the middle of that, and dares us to listen.
There’s a lot being asked of listeners in terms of a record like this…and I’m positive not everyone’s gonna be able to hang with Mad Hugs, every bit as much as I’m positive Mad Hugs is cool with that fact. You need to be extremely comfortable with repetition at the end of the day…the main loops established for pushing record are solid – like, I dig the core of “Vibrant Rant” just as much as I did at the start of the album, or on “Incomprehensible” just a couple cuts on down the road – it’s the rest of the sounds surrounding the repetition that I’m less sure of. Believe me when I tell ya…I’ve gone down this road plenty in my lifetime – with the ol’ Roland 808, or my handheld Kaosillators, you can perfect that beginning beat & melody to the nines – but if you’re not extremely careful, by the end, with just a couple tweaks along the way, you can take something from being completely listenable, to unlistenable in just a few moves. If you don’t end up with something that sounds like Venetian Snares by the end by adding more into it along the way, you’re lucky – but even in those scenarios, it’s extremely tough to judge how long you can let something repeat without the main aspect of a song deviating in some way. When it comes to Mad Hugs, this dude’s locking that main part of the cut in tight…but yeah man…if I’m being real with ya, I think he’s letting it spin a bit too long for the majority of people out there that’ll be listening. A little variation surrounding something, is still exactly that – and what’s really needed is variation overall at the core of the material, otherwise it still feels like we’re stuck in a moment on repeat. When things are going right like they did at the start with “Dive Into Life Again,” obviously you want a whole lot more of it…and when they don’t, you don’t…”Vibrant Rant” is a bit like the opportunity that got away in that regard; it just needs to be stripped down to the bones and somehow stay focused.
Of course, this really depends on what you dig and how long you can dig something for too. For example, I don’t mind the main melody at the core of “Trick Style,” so I’m more inclined to let that spin for as long as it goes for without really feeling the effects of the repetition as much. Admittedly, there’s a bit more to this one in some ways as well, but for the most part, I think it’s pretty clear how Mad Hugs has chosen to go about making the songs on this self-titled record, and how repetition has its definite role. “Trick Style” is a bit more palatable if you ask me…electro-percussion-heavy, but still gentle when it comes to the sound overall…and I suppose by comparison to the rest of the set so far, I think it’s that much more accessible because of that. The balance of this record overall really seems to have a range – sometimes we’re in undeniably experimental terrain, and at others, things tend to come together for a perfect moment or two…”Trick Style” is in that latter category for sure – this is a cut I’d readily listen to. Ultimately, to me, it’s a game of focus & control…which again, aren’t always the easiest things to achieve depending on the methods being used…but if you can give the song what it’s calling for, and control the elements you’re adding into the mix by removing the guesswork & knowing which setting on the dials you wanna flip to next, even if it’s just for a short amount of time, things will stay tight overall. “Trick Style” keeps it together in that regard…and as a result, it’s one of the album’s better tracks, 100%.
After what we’ve experienced so far, you get that feeling that “Paint Pictures All Day” is gonna be more of a challenge, instantly – and it is. Honestly, I’d be interested to know what Mad Hugs is going to feel about these records once the dude is outside of the moment he’s been in for the past month making music…sometimes it takes the ability to step outside of everything to really digest what’s gone on, and I get that – like I said, I’ve been there before. Mad Hugs is like the spirit animal I’ve long caged up inside me now…the experimental one, that feels like everything was completely nailed until the daylight hits it, and I end up wondering how in the heck I ever thought things sounded right in the first place. The reality is – we don’t all make music for the same exact purposes and motivations…that’s where the art of it all comes in. Mad Hugs could very well be doing what he does to elicit something specific, or make us all feel some sort of way about any given tune…honestly, we don’t know – only he does. All I can tell ya about is what the end results are like to listen to…and I can tell ya straight-up in listening to a track like “Paint Pictures All Day” in comparison to how this record started long ago, that there’s no doubt in my mind that he COULD be making things a whole lot easier for himself & for the people listening. So there’s a choice being made in there somewhere along the way…and results he’ll have to reconcile…I listen to the bizarreness of “Paint Pictures All Day” and wonder why he doesn’t go the easier route when he proved he can achieve something like “Dive Into Life Again” and find that balance his expression & accessibility for all. But I ain’t Mad Hugs, so I don’t know the answer…only he knows his motivations.
As “Katatonic” arrived, I instantly thought to myself – do THIS bro. Or more accurately perhaps, if you CAN do THIS, then why aren’t you doing THIS as much as you CAN possibly do THIS? Because THIS works – THIS sounds good, it’s still every bit as creative and innovative, and it’s something that can practically be universally enjoyed. It obviously still leans heavily on loops and repetition, and I think there’s always going to be a bit more room for Mad Hugs to evolve a bit more from such rigid designs in the core melody – but like I told ya earlier, when things go right in that regard, all we want is more of it. “Katatonic” checks that box with its delicate vibes…it almost sounds like it was made with a digital harp to form the dreaminess of the melody at the center of it all, and maybe that’s what it was. I never know exactly what’s in the soup…that’s Mad Hugs and the recipe he’s rockin’ with…all I know is that when the chef is in the kitchen and the meal’s on-point, it’s tasty like this is. “Katatonic” is the longest track on the album at just over four-minutes in length, but you don’t feel the wear & tear nearly as much as you probably notice on a track like “Too Many Wrong Meds,” which is really only thirty seconds shorter. “Katatonic” is a stellar example of everything sonically coming together in a way that suits the song from beginning to end…and all I’ve ever been arguing on behalf of is the focus required to accomplish that.
While the flow of the layout & dynamics of this self-titled record has often felt very 1:1 in the sense that we hear something we dig, then we hear something that’s way more questionable – what Mad Hugs REALLY needed was two undeniable wins featured back-to-back somewhere in the lineup…and I felt like we got that with “Katatonic” followed by “Almost Spooky.” This is that moment we’ve been waiting for more or less…and I ain’t gonna be the one to tell ya that Mad Hugs doesn’t get weird with “Almost Spooky” – of course he does! But it’s a weirdness we can all hang with…in fact, I’d go as far as tellin’ ya it’s a weirdness the majority of us would wanna turn up – AND…I think I actually like this track better than I like “Katatonic.” Which in itself is good…I think the weirder side of Mad Hugs needed a stronger win…so far, I’ve liked what would be the record’s more naturally accessible material – but “Almost Spooky” is where Mad Hugs proves he can take something from the outside of what most of us would probably be listening to normally, and bring us into his world of sound willingly. So in that respect, there’s something here in “Almost Spooky” that the dude is really gonna want to examine up close under the microscope, because it contains some of the blueprint for the pathway forward from here. I personally think this cut fits into the irresistible realm…the melody at the core of this cut is freakishly alive and unique, yet similar to what you’d find in something like an old unearthed cartoon from the 50s or 60s on a worn-out VHS tape. And I get it, I get it – that’s a strange way to describe something that I think you’d like or love like I do…I suppose I’m talkin’ about texture, tone, and ideas…that’s what this track has and laid out perfectly…”Almost Spooky” would be in my top three cuts on this record for sure.
Could it be? Could Mad Hugs be going three-for-three right here with “Almost Beautiful?” I’m not saying it’s impossible…you might feel that way…and I think I’m inclined to say that I feel that way myself too. “Almost Beautiful” is still a solid example you can point to where you can easily hear that choices are being made specifically in a way that makes things more difficult & complex than perhaps necessary – but the core magic at the center of this track is ALSO irresistible too. And personally, I like a LITTLE weirdness on the side of things…that’s where I’m at. I felt like Mad Hugs found the right balance here in that regard…he gives you a little something for us, and adds in a little something for him…we get the best of both worlds without going too far overboard into either, you feel me? I’ll fully admit that, if he were to play this track a bit more simpler and lean harder on the clarity of the core melody I think he’d have a song we’d all have no choice but to describe as completely mesmerizing…and that’s something he may want to consider – but as it stands, I’m really not complaining about “Almost Beautiful” either – I think this came out pretty damn good and is another one of this record’s finer cuts. It almost has a Prefuse 73-like vibe to it…something close to what you’d find from the One Word Extinguisher era – and I’m all about that combination of digitalism-meets-retro-jazz…that’s always an enticing vibe to my ears. No doubt about it to me though, this is the right balance between real innovation and experimentalism.
Bonus points for the title of “Okay, Now It’s Spooky” coming a couple tracks after “Almost Spooky” – that made me chuckle legitimately. Does it live up to its predecessor though? Is it as spooky, or greater, than the eeriness of “Almost Spooky?” I’m not quite so sure about either of those questions. I think to me, “Almost Spooky” is still the cut that wins the spookiness battle…but I’m not really hatin’ on “Okay, Now It’s Spooky” either – it’s just kind of got its own separate deal and potential goin’ on. Like…I’d say you’d more readily find “Okay, Now It’s Spooky” in like…a castle-level of Super Mario or something…it’s got that videogame soundtrack type-feel to it from the 8-bit realm, you know? I’m not opposed to it – heck, I’m not even going to fully declare that the Mad Hugs hot-streak towards the end of this album is over just yet…but you can feel the strength diminishing a bit with this particular cut. “Okay, Now It’s Spooky” doesn’t really give ya the haunting vibes that “Almost Spooky” did in my opinion…honestly, it seemed a bit more friendly than spooky I suppose…but that’s all commentary revolving around the title, and big deal. I think the main issue with “Okay, Now It’s Spooky” was that it felt like it was searching for a hook more-so than it just had one ready to go in with like so many of these other cuts in the lineup do and present to ya from the very beginning of when you hear’em. “Okay, Now It’s Spooky” still technically has’em to a degree, just not anything much stronger than something you would have already heard by Mad Hugs on this very record, let alone the other three released over the past month online.
Wrapping it up with “She Was Gonna Have My Baby” gives you some brightened synth vibes to finish off the record with…and ultimately, seems a little more on the celebratory side of sound than you might assume by the song’s title. All-in-all, it’s a pretty good way to wrap things up…I think people out there will dig this last track. It’s pleasant…quaint…dreamy & a bit on the fantastical side of sound too if you ask me…I’m never sure who, but apparently someone did, so there you have it…that’s what I think. Ultimately, it finishes off this self-titled record in an enticing way that’ll have you wanting to repeat the experience all over again to see what you might have missed before…if what you thought originally is still how you feel…that kind of thing. While I suspect your gut instincts on what you heard the first time will probably still be how you feel on those subsequent spins more or less, you might find you warm up to a few of the cuts that you were on the fence about…tracks like “Incomprehensible” and “Almost Beautiful” seem that much stronger the next time you hear’em, which is good. Four records on the inside of a month is a monumental task for any artist or band out there in the scene…a visual cue that someone likely needs to slow down a bit & introduce a lot more scrutiny & objectivity before you get the audible confirmation that usually comes with it. And…yeah…that’s kind of the case here with the Mad Hugs album…a bit uneven at times perhaps, but lots of interesting breakthroughs and significant highlights along the way too. I have the feeling this project is always going to cook up something you haven’t heard before – and the value in that alone, is priceless. I look forward to what Mad Hugs does next for that very reason…much like this record, I could never predict what that next move will truly be.
Listen to more music by Mad Hugs at Bandcamp here: https://madhugs.bandcamp.com
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