Andy Rauworth and Craig Nice, for better or worse, ’til death do them part, are a case study of the best and the shittiest aspects of the last decade’s music industry. The pair have been friends since childhood and made music together under a number of guises — making a splash on the indie scene in 2010 as Gauntlet Hair, then calling it quits and disappearing into the mist of 2013. All has been quiet, until now. With no label behind them, the duo are officially back as cindygod, self-releasing the new EP demos.
But before we go forward, we must go back.
One aimless night in 2010, I was driving my car, flipping through XM satellite radio channels. “I was Thinking…” by Gauntlet Hair stopped the spinning dial. Arena-ready beats and a sky-high guitar riff ran hypnotic circles around each other. A lone voice haunted the proceedings, echoing from the bottom of what sounded like a dank, abandoned wishing well. I still have no idea what the lyrics are about, and I don’t want to ruin the mystery by looking them up. I knew one thing that night – I loved whatever I was hearing.
Nothing about Gauntlet Hair has been so immediate since.
A self-titled debut followed soon after in 2011. The record was shiny and waxy, a board of finely grained wood set to surf the tide of bro-jam that Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion spawned in 2009. Guitarist and singer Andy Rauworth even channeled both ANCO vocalists, carrying the hyper nasality of Avey Tare and the sunny tenor of Panda Bear. Craig Nice was on the drums, providing a sonic boom over and under the clipping guitars. The band didn’t include the warmly-received single “I Was Thinking…” on the release, indicating a swagger and confidence that they didn’t need it.
There is an inherent positivity in Gauntlet Hair’s debut album. If Rauworth is ever pissed off, dejected, or heartbroken, I can’t tell. Every channel in the mix feels like it is reaching for a higher purpose, the next step, or maybe a dystopian riff on “Good Vibrations.” Not until the last track, “Shout in Tongues,” can I understand Rauworth when he chants, “I want a child who breaks the rules, goes to school, and then gets the fuck out.” The shadowy image of a clothed man jumping into a swimming pool on the album cover spoke volumes.
We’re having fun now.
The hooks on Gauntlet Hair are tight, the melodies infallible, and while the record didn’t traverse the zeitgeist as I thought it might, it was enough to warrant the follow-up record Stills in 2013. Rauworth and Nice trashed their prior formula: the vocals more crisp and pronounced. The guitar was fighting for its aural space instead of obliterating it. The drums were still cranked to eleven, but in more quantized, robotic patterns. Two lead singles, “Human Nature” and “Bad Apple” had slow and sexy feels that were previously nowhere to be found. The melodic mission of the band remained true, striving for pop perfection. Instead of making a splash on the album cover, a baby doll was blindfolded this time.
Everything was retracting.
More than the music on Stills, which I loved, the music carried another brand of desperation in my ears. A couple of weeks before Stills dropped, Nice tweeted, “Please BUY our album this time. I know it’s super easy to get for free but cmon… being broke all the time makes this infinitely harder.” Other tweets begged for places to crash while on tour. Two guys were making music that I absolutely adored, and yet were living hand to mouth.
A week or two later, the band called it quits and canceled a tour opening for Surfer Blood. Without any solid explanation, Rauworth and Nice vanished into the shadows of Denver, Colorado. The band’s self-mythology painted Rauworth and Nice as best friends who only wanted to make music together — and this is no bullshit. The disintegration of Gauntlet Hair didn’t break their brotherly bond. I had cornered both of them online in 2016 for a joint interview on my now-defunct podcast. The two were still roommates, working in bars and thrift stores, and apparently not releasing any new music anytime soon. It was a bitter feeling I carried about so many other bands over the years — Beulah, Rich Creamy Paint, Blue Merle, the list goes on — artists I loved that should be cashing in, not living in obscurity. The interview never materialized, and I kept wondering why the hell these two talented friends couldn’t just give the world some music and live off the fruits.
Three years later and better than never, we can all spin some new tracks from Rauworth and Nice. Further expanding the sound palette and distinguishing cindygod from Gauntlet Hair is bassist Anton Krueger and Eamonn Wilcox on guitar.
The title alone, demos, indicates a group of unfinished songs, lacking polish, but feels more like a proper evolution from Stills. No song is content to sit still, expounding on every sound that came before in Gauntlet Hair. The beats are faster, the white noise more aggressive, and Rauworth’s voice still emitting from a subterranean void. Each element invites the listener to wonder what message is presented. Anyone familiar with the backstory of the band can only guess they’re just glad to be back doing this.
In the first track, “Gosh,” gothic leanings of The Cure collide with early-Nine Inch Nails aggro-pop. Drums, buzz-sawing synths, and guitars all fighting for their place. Then the noise fades, leaving only a beat and the vocals to wind around the other. Every channel in the mix then comes back to life, sprinting to the song’s finish. “Disown” is a more mellow brand of thrash, leaning on airy synth pads and breakbeats, before resurrecting Rauworth’s guitar during the back half of the song.
Rauworth recently told Stereogum that demos comprises the first songs that were written post-Gauntlet Hair, an attempt to see if that dormant musical spirit could be prolonged. With that preface, the songs carry a literal fight for life. Instead of reaching for the sky a la Gauntlet Hair’s debut, cindygod’s demos goes wherever it may roam, changing tempos, dropping out, and fading in. “Rabbit” begins as one rolling drum beat and collects individual sounds along its way. Just like in Stop Making Sense, it all builds to an apocalyptic anthem.
More sounds of the eighties are turned on their heads during “711” and “DD-11,” then covered with the ashes of Gauntlet Hair. The songs on demos began as a seance, and seem to have resurrected an old friend into a new body, right before our very ears.
It remains to be seen if Rauworth and Nice are getting certain songs out of the way before a proper cindygod album, or if larger and louder versions of demos will comprise a future LP. Either way, fans of Gauntlet Hair have something to finally celebrate in this new year. You won’t find demos on Spotify or Apple Music, only direct from the artists via bandcamp, on wax or digital download.
Please support independent music, and please give a warm welcome to cindygod.