The Hang Ups

Sharps & Flats is a daily music review in Salon Magazine

Published June 9, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

if your ear got caught by a jangly and tender tune as boy tumbled for girl in Kevin Smith's movie "Chasing Amy," consider yourself introduced to the Hang Ups. Soul Asylum front guy Dave Pirner fashioned the soundtrack, and, being the longtime Hang Ups booster that he is, he put the Minneapolis quartet front and center in the film's "falling in love" montage. The featured song, "Jump Start," is so ridiculously effervescent that even this tired cinematic shorthand starts communicating something other than the filmmaker's laziness.

Both "Jump Start" and the 1993 album it comes from, "He's After Me," have been re-released, just as the Hang Ups finally cough up their second collection, "So We Go." Either album will delight an appetite for graceful, frisky hooks, melancholic choir-boy harmonies and pensive moods, although "So We Go" offers a smoother, less busy ride: It's less Peter and Gordon, more the Association. That's an exaggeration, of course, but the Hang Ups probably would accept (with a knowing smile) an "adult contemporary" or "pop folk" tag. They're proudly twee, cheerfully sensitive, shamelessly addicted to beauty.

All of which might become grossly goopy if Brian Tighe's songwriting and the band's arrangements were not so focused and careful, so shorn of the extraneous. "Top of Morning," the first incandescent track, unfolds as a paean to, yes, mornings. Just as the voluptuous la-la-la guitar line sets up sheets of distortion, the song vacillates between languorous stretches and brisk, prickly awareness. "Sweet Tooth," operating on little more than a distant, sawing guitar clamor, a pressing rhythm and a chorus that slurs, "Huh, HUH-uh, huh-AH, huh-ah," quickly uncovers the paradox hidden in the title: This movement feels luscious and sharp, like the beginnings of love.

If the Hang Ups get their moods across -- and "So We Go" shows they're only getting more persuasive -- those moods tend to remain enigmatic (the three exceptions are the album's clunkers, "Sign the Letter," "Walkin' Around" and "Sittin' in My Room"). These songs resonate simply because they refuse simplicity. The sexy bass muscle of "Cornerstore" gets thwarted by, of all things, a hook at once so delirious and subdued it's all about the ephemeral nature of joy. Addressing homecoming in the folky coda "Greyhound Bus," Tighe sifts between voices: the parents, the returning son, the ghost of the child that was, as syrupy guitar, strings and saxophone hover just this side of sentimental. And just this side of things is where the Hang Ups like to, um, hang, filming montages of internal landscapes, writing precise soundtracks of piercing mystery.

By Terri Sutton

Terri Sutton is a Minneapolis writer whose work has appeared in Spin, the Village Voice and the Minneapolis City Pages.

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