Despite having been broken up for nearly eight years, 2016 has been a big year for The Hunches. Almost Ready records released a set of shelved demos, marking the Oregon quartet’s first new release since 2009; guitarist Chris Gunn unveiled his Lavender Flu project, bringing to the surface the narcotized atmospherics always known to bubble just beneath The Hunches more in-your-face caterwaul; and with Sleeping Beauties, front man Hart Gledhill returns from the dead to once again unleash upon the world his desperate, demented yowl and perennially damaged disposition.
Joined by a band of brothers from the Pacific Northwest underground, including Rob Enbom and Rod Meyer of Eat Skull, Gledhill unleashes his inner demons and bares his heart on the band’s self-titled debut (In the Red Records). This is a rough, nasty, filthy record full of blood and guts, hard drugs, societal decay, predator priests, and a river of tampons. Yet while there are moments of Beefheartian art skronk and circa ’75 Clevo noise damage, the record is far catchier than anything The Hunches ever recorded, even in their early, more straightforward punk ’n‘ roll days. A song like “Meth,” which may not be an endorsement of the drug, but certainly isn’t a cautionary tale either, is bound to lodge its bouncy chorus in your skull despite its rather bleak subject matter. Classic power-pop riffs steer tracks like “Wheeler” and “Potter’s Daughter,” while “Southie,” a yarn about the 1986 World Series and the sins of the Catholic church, is a soulful story-song with an almost folk-rock pep. The Hunches certainly proved they had a melodic sensibility, but it was never the priority that it seems to be on tracks like “Lisa Told Me” or even the cacophonous yet poppy “Pinwheel Spins.”
There’s no escaping Gledhill’s voice, though. Equal parts wounded animal howling at the moon and glam-rock strutter on a bender, he is surely one of the most distinct and effective vocalists of the last 15 years of punk rock. When he’s at his most unhinged, one can’t help but wonder what this guy has been through—or is going through, for that matter. But when he’s uncorking his best David Johansen revamp, it’s just as easy not to worry about it. This dichotomy extends itself to the band and album as a whole, too: sweet hooks, vivacious choruses, and pure rock & roll swagger as an antidote to a sick, sad world that offers no quarter.