Hansi – Like We Used To

Like We Used To

Without hearing Hansi’s previous two releases, it still amazes me that this band is self-releasing their own material. Like We Used To is such an impressive album – effortlessly mixing folk-inspired singer/songwriter material with potent and driving yet melodic rock – that they seem destined for a significantly greater audience than this album will likely achieve. Yet the Oakland-area trio is going the tried and true indie route and should be applauded for sticking it out this long.
Led by guitarist and singer/songwriter Johannes Armentrout, Hansi plays what could be called emo-country, if that wasn’t such a hideous contraction. At times firmly based in acoustic-driven folk-inspired music, at other times led by driving guitars and power-rock sensibilities, the common factor among the songs is Armentrout’s stellar vocals and the band’s impeccably tight performance. At times the band evokes early (and the best period of) Elliot Smith, at times bands like Hum or Camden, and that seeming contradiction in sounds works for them beautifully.
Armentrout’s higher-pitched voice adds a shimmering flare to the stellar “Submarines,” which kicks off the album on a strong emo-bent, combining melodic guitars, strong rhythm, and intricate lyrics with a catchy chorus. And he croons out his vocals on the heart-wrenching “Headstone (Come Home)” so desperately, as the song intersperses alt-country guitar with a more melodic chorus, that you can’t help but feel the sentiment behind the words. The more obvious Elliot Smith influences (and Armentrout’s voice at times sounds like Smith’s) start with the lovely “The Three Song Years” and are demonstrated equally well on songs like “The Same Short Song” and the lovely acoustic “Walt’s Stranger.” “Violet’s” is still acoustically driven but has more power, more passion that comes clearly through the more intense instrumentation and Armentrout’s voice.
For all their folk influences, the other two band members (one of whom also plays in the lo-fi pop band The Librarians and the other in the math/punk band From Monuments to Ashes) keep up their end of the bargain, providing strong and intricate rhythm. “Down and Out” rocks quite nicely, not too hard but in a strong indie-rock sense, but again Armentrout’s voice, singing “Why can’t I come down?” will win you over. The instrumental “Forget Me Knots” rocks nicely but still has a laid-back, alt-country flare at moments. The acoustic closer, “Wishful Thinking” has some great percussion and bass to back it up, lending even more weight to the song.
It doesn’t surprise me that Like We Used To found Hansi a label, with a new album that includes songs from this release due out in 2003 on Substandard Records. This trio is stellar, combining sounds you wouldn’t think would work together and doing it with poise and power. I’ll be expecting more wonderful things from these guys.