There’s a ton of great music coming out of the New Jersey indie scene these days from a ton of talented artists, but there are certain intangible qualities beyond sheer talent which are responsible for a piece of music being able to truly resonate with people on a level that exists deeper than enjoyable listening. Such an album was given to us by Hodera and Take This to Heart Records in First Things First.
On November 3, Hodera celebrated the release with a show at The Brighton Bar in Long Branch along with Save Face, Secret Stuff, and Halogens. The venue was packed with an enthusiastic and attentive crowd. To have followed these guys’ work and to see them receive the feedback and support First Things First has brought them has been nothing short of remarkable.
Hodera started to gain wide spread recognition following their 2015 album United by Birdcalls, which spawned an Audiotree performance, a showcase at SXSW, a set at the Front Bottoms’ Champagne Jams, and a seemingly endless touring schedule. This band has truly been grinding as hard as any, and to see them achieve this level of success is only one of the many inspiring things about this band.
Matthew Smith’s lyrics have always been a great strength and some of the best in the scene, and while personally I wouldn’t have expected they could’ve improved much beyond such great tracks as “Feel Better” and “The Outside” from United by Birdcalls, Smith elevated the songwriting to a new level that pushes the limits of how raw and honest a song can be. Smith’s ability to evoke such an emotional response while avoiding anything close to a conventional cliché is nothing short of remarkable. The stories told and images created in “Four White Walls” and “Just for Today” are so vivid and heartfelt, and while they are absolutely soul-crushing, are still narrated in a positive, uplifting, and hopeful way.
This album seems to exist as a touring or road trip narrative, with tales of different places, the spaces in between, and the lasting impressions they’ve all left behind. There’s a bittersweet feel to so many of these tracks, both fondly and painfully recalling the past in a way that causes me to also reflect on the best and worst times of my life and realize how often they’re one and the same. The most vivid verse is from “North Dakota,” in which the complete rise and fall of new love and love lost is so simply conveyed in only four lines: “I know there was a time when I was always on your mind/ But now you just seem too preoccupied, I’m strung out on a line/ But I remember in November when we met in Connor’s cellar at a show/ We liked each other’s sweaters so we traded for a while.”
As a band, Hodera is able to support such strong storytelling in the lyrics with equally powerful music behind it. Whereas some artists tend to make the vocals such a primary focus and utilize softer backing guitars and rhythm, Hodera features some pretty hard rocking breakdowns powered by Alek Mager on bass and Scott Tilley on drums. Doug Gallo plays a lead guitar that is as lyrical in its own right as Smith’s vocals. The highs and lows created by the entire band really work to accent and mirror the corresponding emotional peaks and valleys throughout the album.
Hodera has a bright future ahead of them and it’s great to see a band like this having such success. Smith’s openness and raw honesty about even some of the darkest and most vulnerable parts of life have clearly resonated with an audience that appreciates and identifies with it in a way that is so special and unique. First Things First offers the truth that feelings of loneliness and isolation are universal to us all and nothing proves that more than the response this album has received, and for that, thank you, Hodera, for giving us something that we all needed.
If you’ve still not listened to First Things First, it is available on all the standard streaming platforms. You can also get yourself a copy of the colored vinyl and other band merch from their Bandcamp.
Adam gave man-birth to N.J. Racket and is as close to an "editor-in-chief" the site has. He's a god awful photographer.