Hodera’s ‘First Things First’ comes with a slew of shows, including a release party on Nov. 3 at The Brighton Bar, Long Branch, and a tour that will bring the emotional, roots-friendly alt-rock band throughout the East Coast and Midwest.
Most records take a few listens to get warmed up to, but not this one. “First Things First,” Hodera’s follow-up to the exceptional 2015 full-length debut, “United by Birdcalls,” hits ya’ right off with three songs that could be hits if not ignored by a record industry ripped off by music streams and a generation raised to treat music like a Dixie cup. One thing’s for sure, “First Things First” is not disposable as it makes astutely painful observations about the Millennial generation’s frustrating stagnancy and subsequent self-loathing. Lead vocalist-lyricist-guitarist Matthew Ryan Smith shares cathartic confessions about a fragile psyche, personal demons and unfulfilled ambitions, as well as the impact society’s increasingly vicious maniacal patterns have on both the crumbling whole and easily shattered individuals.
These themes, along with the need for support, to belong and be loved in a loveless world, permeate the 10-song effort on the small Massachusetts-based indie label Take This to Heart Records. The strong, unattainable desire to move to the edgily artistic, yet safely suburban town of Montclair are shared in both the opening “Out of Sync” and the second-to-last track, “My Daily Chemicals.” On “Out of Sync,” Smith stresses the need to be balanced over the need to be happy with “a job I don’t hate, friends that don’t act fake, five bucks in my pocket to get into the show.” Instead, lonely nightmares cripple a faltering faith, the cruel irony of which makes it hard to rise out of bed. In its pursuit of the Montclarion dream, “My Daily Chemicals” discusses a possible antidote, as does “Four White Walls,” which also points to the power of faith over meds as a means of self-improvement.
Many of the songs seem to be inspired by the closing track, “Holding Patterns,” which, to an emotive but catchy tune, features nearly three minutes of Millennials describing their frustration, pain and sorrow about not being able to move forward in life personally or professionally. In some cases, that’s after thousands upon thousands of dollars in college loans for a degree that seems worthless. However, “Highways,” “North Dakota,” “Just for Today,” and “The Saddest Sentence” contemplate a possible solution, the idea that we are not alone, that we are better if we support each other, love one another, rather than face the wicked world frightened, frustrated and forlorn.
What’s great about Hodera is that while they are a young band, their mix of folk and acoustic rock, raw emotions, and hard and heavy rhythms spans musical generations that makes the import of what they have to say all the more penetrable. Like Bruce Springsteen? Well, then you’re probably going to enjoy the rootsy-sounding rapid-fire delivery of “North Dakota,” the fine picking and vocal harmony of the acoustic rocker “Baltimore,” and the spare, haunting dirge of “Just for Today.”
How about Pearl Jam? On “Highways,” as Smith screams to intense, grungy accompaniment, “Where do I belong? I don’t know,” he reminds me of Eddie Vedder, as does “Best Intentions,” a rousing cascade of free-verse memories boiling from a self-inflicted broken heart. If they can appreciate the band’s strong musical roots, particularly folk music, fans of Taking Back Sunday and Brand New who don’t know Hodera also may like them.
What all those artists have in common are strong blasts of emotion. With Hodera, that is a roller coaster ride of rock ‘n’ roll, the build and release of which is as much fun as it is cathartic, as thrilling as it is chilling.
The fact that a band this good released “First Things First” on an indie is sad, not on the part of the band or label, which has done an exceptional job with packaging and promotion. I just hope Take This to Heart can reach the masses. People need to hear this album, not just because it’s good but because it heals. If you’re hurting, listen to “First Things First,” and know that you are not alone with your problems or their solutions.
You also should see Hodera live. The only time I’ve seen them perform, I heard several of the songs from “First Things First,” and thought they were fantastic, but it was less than half of an LP, so I wondered if the band might have a tough time topping the acclaimed “United by Birdcalls.” But they did top it, and to that, I attribute Smith’s strong thematic songwriting and the band’s cohesiveness as a full unit, rather than sporadic backing musicians.
With their high energy, including an entertaining light show that punctuates the songs’ release of emotions, Hodera are even better live. A tour of the East Coast and Midwest kicks off on Halloween with a show at Mercury Lounge in New York City with peaer, The Harmonica, No Ice, and A Deer A Horse, and includes a release party on Nov. 3 at The Brighton Bar, Long Branch, with Save Face, Halogens, and Secret Stuff. Area tour dates also include Nov. 9, The Chameleon Club, Lancaster, Pa.; Dec. 2, Everybody Hits, Philadelphia, and Dec. 3, Amityville Music Hall, Amityville, N.Y.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. Like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn