"Some of the most promising acts in the genre have figured out that invoking the spirit of college rock—or whatever else jangly guitar pop was referred to before "indie" became a qualifier for anything and everything—is a direct path to the pleasure center of guitar rock's true believers.
Portland's 'The Hugs' are definitely one of those bands. The nine songs on their latest record, Love You to Death, could potentially come across as pandering to that reality, but the album's songwriting and assembly is far too honest and carefree to deserve such a cynical assessment. If Love You to Death's confident blend of post-punk, power pop and sugar-coated harmonies doesn't get your toe tapping in its breezy 30-minute runtime, consider yourself a killjoy.
The album kicks off with "Mile High Lady," a jaunty pacesetter that sounds like the Knack covering Haim. On the title track, frontman Danny Delegato sings he's "doing fine, out of place and out of time," which lands as a hopeful rumination rather than an outright bummer. It's a perfect statement of purpose for the record as a whole and for the crisp production of Sonny DiPerri, who lends a feeling of timeless melancholy to the entire affair.
As Love You to Death enters its dour midsection, it becomes clear the Hugs' strongest suit is their ability to pace themselves. The '90s alt-rock radio anthem "Can't Behave" recalls the brief window of time when Oasis, Blur and pre-OK Computer Radiohead jockeyed for airwave dominance. But the trio shows restraint by dialing back the feedback and aggression for the jittery balladry of "Who Loved You" that follows.
The next track, the bleary sing-along "Falling Star," finds Delegato repeating a line about how the time at hand is the best days of his life over chords that are as uncertain as the tremble in his voice. The decision to use such a hauntingly beautiful arrangement rather than a distortion-soaked banger as the record's emotional centerpiece shows a great deal of intelligence.
"While truly original ideas are here onLove You to Death, the Hugs are masters of synthesis who know how to push all the right buttons at all the right times. When your songwriting and production are as airtight as they are here, reinventing the wheel takes a backseat to squeezing as much excitement as possible out of a formula that's been tried and true for decades."
"The Hugs reach power-pop perfection with “Love You To Death” ~ April 12th, 2019
Love You To Death, the fifth LP from Portland, Oregon-based power pop warriors the Hugs, sounds better, hits harder, and moves more quickly than all four of its admirable predecessors.
The record’s release, slated for spring of 2019, should cement the trio as a leader of the Pacific Northwest pop music scene, thus beginning another strange chapter in the already-lengthy saga of this overperforming underdog.
The Hugs’ eleven-year odyssey began with fanfare. Scarcely had the band’s four original members graduated from Portland’s Cleveland High School (class of 2007), than British record industry luminary James Endeacott signed them to his boutique imprint — 1965/Columbia UK Records.
The Hugs, then-as-now anchored by guitarist and chief songwriter Danny Delegato, found themselves in the odd circumstance of flying to the UK to record a major label debut while still graduating high school as teenagers. The Hugs’ music, however, more than justified Endeacott’s interest.
Even in their earliest recordings, Delegato and company displayed a reverent appreciation for the 'Golden Era' of guitar pop and a preternatural talent for writing compelling hooks. They were good, and perhaps suffered from gaining too much attention before their sound had matured.
Despite releasing an admirable debut — 2009’s Again And Again — the fates of both the Hugs and the label that had appeared to be their meal ticket soon declined. 1965 records folded. The Hugs’ brief turn in the star-making machine yielded some brilliant songs, but left them bereft of the momentum needed to continue their career at that level.
That the band’s story did not end at this point remains a fascinating anomaly, for rather than calling it quits, the Hugs dealt with disappointment by doubling their efforts. After exorcising the final remnants of their commitment to what was then known as “retro-rock” on a 2010 self-titled LP, the Hugs released the psychedelic-flavored Love Led You Here in 2013, and the pop-leaning Feelings of Life in 2016. Throughout numerous lineup changes and stylistic experiments, the Hugs continued to build its reputation piece-by-piece, landing opening slots for like-minded bands such as the Kooks, the Walkmen, Calpurnia, The Dandy Warhols, and featuring their music in TV shows such as HBO’s “Girls.”
Delegato reconstituted the band once again following Feelings of Life, enlisting new members. This trio recorded the Hugs’ fifth LP — Love You To Death. Love You To Death demonstrates that Delegato has spent the Hugs’ decade-plus career honing his already significant talents as a pop songwriter. Weighing in at a trim nine tracks, the album shows the band at the height of its powers, demanding comparisons to guitar-pop masters such as Weezer and The Strokes.
Album opener “Mile High Lady” lays a disco beat beneath a rowdy paeon to the title character; lead-off singles “Love You to Death” and “Fool” propel Delegato’s titanic hooks atop thick waves of fuzz.
Love You To Death’s lyrics stick close to the perennial Hugs themes of love and substance abuse, this time pairing these stories with suitably masterful production. The album finds nary a guitar lick out of place, nor suffers an instant of waning momentum. Since its inception, the Hugs’ songwriting instincts have set it apart from even its most ambitious contemporaries. In Love You To Death, the band exercises a precise focus on this strength. Not a single one of Love You To Death’s nine tracks passes without investing the listener with an inescapable earworm. Mixing from Sonny Dipperi, whose credits include M83, Trent Reznor, 30 Seconds to Mars, Portugal The Man, and STRFKR, makes the proceedings sound appropriately colossal.
Though it’s arriving well behind the group’s initial storm of hype, Love You To Death provides what the Hugs long ago promised to deliver — a near-perfect pop record.
"The Hugs are a four-piece rock ’n’ roll band (Brainchild of Danny Delegato) from Portland, Oregon, who recorded their debut album in England. This makes sense because their music sounds British—not “Greensleeves” British, but rather the brand of British that became popular when groups like The Kinks and The Yardbirds invaded America in the mid-’60s with their ramshackle lyrics and bluesy riffs."
"Plucked from Portland, where it labored in obscurity, and deposited directly into the machinery of the British music industry, The Hugs were, for a flash of time, England's next big thing. Of course, over there, next big things come and go with editions of the Daily Mail. "
"In 2006, Roger Sargent, an English rock photographer, came across demos on the band's Myspace page. Impressed by the maturity of the arrangements and melodies—and, no doubt, Delegato's Brit-pop leanings as a songwriter—Sargent went to James Endeacott, the A&R rep responsible for discovering the Strokes, and together they flew to Portland to see the Hugs play live. Even though the most high-profile gigs the group could line up were at coffee shops and house shows, Endeacott signed The Hugs to his Columbia-backed imprint, 1965 Records, and brought them to London."
"For the next few years, the Hugs lived in the U.K., where it toured, had meals with major industry figures, got name-checked in NME, smashed newly-bought guitars, hung out with the Libertines and, eventually, went into the studio with producer Liam Watson."
"Frontman Danny Delegato is the Guns N' Roses-era caricature, his over-sized sleeveless shirt and cowboy hat dwarfing his boyish frame. When asked to check his mic, he lets out a howl that dovetails into a squeal."
"Sustaining a project over a long period of time can be trying, but Danny Delegato, frontman and songwriter for The Hugs, has figured out how to write, record and release music for more than 10 years now. A Portland native, Delegato has a dedication to be an artist and a drive to document his life through recording songs. He has had the opportunity to not only share and play his songs on his home turf, but also in the United Kingdom where The Hugs spent a short period of time signed to Britain’s branch of Columbia U.K. Records."
"The Hugs have been occupying their own little corner of the Portland music scene for six years now, cranking out garage pop with an ear for arenas. You could even say it's under appreciated by some. Lead Hug Danny Delegato has forged ahead through personnel changes, kicking out happy pop for sad souls. And they keep getting better. The band's latest LP, is jam-packed with exuberant, full-bodied pop with hooks aplenty and a sparkly sheen. It's easily the Hugs' best work to date, and should turn the spotlight on this motley crew in Portland and beyond. "
"Feelings of Life', the latest LP released under the Hugs tag, is a bizarre and indelible marriage of Revolver-era psychedelia and radio-friendly, Prius ad-pop."
"Portland's The Hugs have been bashing out catchy, '60s-influenced pop for years, and get better and tighter with every release."
"Danny Delegato has been keeping his psychedelic cruise ship the Hugs afloat since 2007. A new version of the Hugs is readying a new LP out in 2019, which carries on the tradition of making psych-pop with a smack of bubblegum."
"Indie-pop band the Hugs aren't rough enough for Portland, and they like it that way"
"Over the past decade or so, the Hugs have carved out a niche in the Portland music scene as a DIY group with more polish than most indie-rock groups.
Some critics say that, over the years, the band became solely a vessel for Delegato's output as a singer-songwriter. But that changed when the band revamped its roster last November, adding Bauri Toss from Chicago on bass and vocals.
Speaking with Inlander by phone ahead of the Hugs' Saturday show at the Bartlett, the band says they've adopted a much more democratic approach to writing songs. To make the long-distance thing work, Delegato — the only remaining founding member — records demos and sends them to his bandmates, who come up with suggestions for changes and accompanying parts before they get in a studio together.
Lately, everyone has been down to explore new sounds. The Hugs have sounded like a poppy four-piece rock band for its entire history, but they recently started messing around with synthesizers, drum machines and electronic programming thanks to their new drummer.
The result is a new three-song EP, New Utopia, which includes the superb dream-pop track "Friends Can Break Your Heart." The EP is due for release on Valentine's Day.
They're still figuring out how to do justice to the new songs in the live setting, given the technical challenges of performing electronic-based music as a four-piece rock band. But that's more of a short-term concern, Delegato says. After the fun, experimental detour of "New Utopia:, the band is getting back down to business: This spring, the Hugs are headed into the studio to record the band's as-yet-untitled fifth full-length album.
Obviously, fans will have to wait and hear the new record, but one thing's for sure: It won't be rough around the edges. ♦
"They had pretty much everything a young, aspiring band could dream of, and it all happened really quickly: coveted opening slots for the Walkmen and the Dandy Warhols, a sizable national and European following (thanks in no small part to MySpace), and most significantly, a record contract with 1965 Records, a subsidiary of Columbia. Fast-forward to present day and frontman Danny Delegato is the sole remaining Hug."
"The band's newest release, an EP titled Dirty Gems, is about as formulaic as you'd expect from a band following in the Kooks' and Libertines' footprints, but nobody can deny that Delegato and his new bandmates know their way around a hook ("Racy Girl + "Dot Dot" being the standout example). "
"You can put that NME cover on hold for now, as their rise to stardom will, at best, be a slow and gradual ascent. But under the floppy bangs and slouched teenage shoulders lies a group of kids on the cusp of something great."
"Much like the early forbearers of the jangly Brit-rock sound, the Hugs have a loose charm, a perfectly content sense of confidence that permeates throughout their sound, no matter how sloppy it might be at the time. Their music has the rough kinetic energy of Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement, and the haphazard punk of (pre-crack and tabloids) the Libertines.
"Opener "Dreams," with its early-Beatles guitar leads and pharma-tropical breakdowns, feels like three melodic ideas slapped together, and it's a rough start. But the hooks are here: In the Strokes-funk "Egos," Delegato's voice shifts from singing to barking, matching his raw, plainspoken lyrical insecurities. "In Love" showcases enough tribal drumming and vocal interplay to obscure its pop-filler lyrics."
"[TWISTY U.S.-BRIT POP] When you're young and talented like Danny Delegato and his group the Hugs, everything comes easy at first: praise, opportunities and the boundless energy to keep it all going. As such, the summery teen-pop quartet was the talk of Portland a year ago (2009), landing opening stints for national acts and a major-label deal."
"At 24 (in 2013), Delegato still looks very much like one. Tangled black hair hangs to his shoulders. His boyish face, dotted with a teenager's blemishes, is augmented by round-frame glasses. Naturally, Delegato is a bit sick of discussing those days in London, mostly because he's made a lot of music since, under his own name and as the Hugs, but also because, well, who wants constantly to be reminded of who they were at age 18?"
"Impressed by the maturity of the arrangements and melodies—and, no doubt, Delegato's Brit-pop leanings as a songwriter—Sargent went to James Endeacott, the A&R rep responsible for discovering the Strokes, and together they flew to Portland to see the Hugs play live. Even though the most high-profile gigs the group could line up were at coffee shops and house shows, Endeacott signed the Hugs to his Columbia-backed imprint, 1965 Records, and brought them to London—"