Death and Rebirth With Hodera

When is a piece of art truly finished? When is it time to shift gears, call things quits, or reinvent?

These are questions that have inevitably been on the mind of Hodera’s Matthew Smith. The band itself began as Smith’s solo effort before becoming a true collaborative effort. And in a move that could be seen as overcompensation, Smith has once again found himself with a solo project, this time under the Bravely moniker.

This particular movement toward solo releases happened some point after 2017’s First Things First (and its supplemental follow up, Besides). And while reasons for the band’s informal hiatus remain shrouded in mystery (at least to me), the group decided to resurface earlier this year with another EP.

The band had this to say: We really only decided to get back together due to the constant online support. We thought our journey was done but you all pushed us to keep going!

Admittedly, it’s hard to keep tabs on which bands are active, which ones are putting out releases, which ones are on the cusp of new releases, and any of the multitude of factors connected to the music industry. It’s weird to realize how much time has past since some of my favorite albums. And when a band chooses to silently fade away, it’s even more confusing as to just what’s going on. They’ve decided they’re done, but fans don’t realize it. Needless to say, prior to reading this, I guess I missed the hint that Hodera was no more.

So, their return is certainly a welcome surprise (though their back catalog does indeed hold its own), but the bigger question surrounds why they stopped in the first place. After all, First Things First was a definite change of pace from United by Birdcalls, and while Bravely deviates stylistically, the sound is adjacent enough that it could have easily been published under the Hodera moniker – I’ve seen several bands turn to solo projects or rely on guest features but carry the same brand forward.

Certainly, there are few sure answers in this case. Maybe the whole spirit behind Bravely, the mental state where those songs originate, is vastly differently than what facilitated the Hodera songs. Maybe Hodera’s identity became a true cooperative work. Maybe everything that needed to be said was already out there. Maybe it was time, distance, money, priorities. We might never know, and it’s not imperative we do. But we do know that communal support was enough to bring the band back together for another recording.

And that seems pretty interesting – that Hodera and Bravely for once exist concurrently. It’s undeniable the new iteration of Hodera is a bit different after a few years off, but it’s not a detriment. The two projects have unique purposes enough to warrant a brand separation.

But what about bands like Thrice who have seemingly run the gamut on genre? The Alchemy Index on its own carried enough stylistic variety to surpass most bands, and that’s only a microcosm of what the band has explored. Cool Hand Luke has gone from midwest emo to alternative rock to piano-based indie and has seen several lineups, including a solo iteration. There’s something to be said about a band that, in a sense, manages to have a career that lasts a couple decades. And while that’s harder and harder in the modern world, uprooting the brand you’re most known for can seem like career suicide – or at the very least, akin to starting over. Compare the social draw of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s to Richard Edwards’ solo work – the same artist under two different names is seeing disproportionate success.

Now, Hodera is smaller than all of the bands listed; arguably, they have the most to lose starting over. It’s hard to get the first hundred or 500 people to care, and doing it all over again is excruciating.

That’s not to say this distinction is wrong by any stretch or that Hodera is the only band that has done this sort of thing; what’s unique is that the band quietly dissolved but reappeared. Whatever defines their music, whatever unites the members… these are the core parts of Hodera as a project. It would seem other artists have fewer firm definitions for their art, allowing it to be malleable to some stretch. But others, in the case of The Felix Culpa, simply exist under the pretense that they’ve reached their magnum opus and that to carry on further would be a mistake. Some reasons naturally carry a greater degree of permanence, even if the band may later decide to do some sort of reunion after reconsidering things.

But Hodera was very much a young band with a small catalog. It’s hard not to feel that the end was untimely, much like a high school romance torn to shreds when the couple go off to separate colleges. All the band has said is that they’ve stopped playing a few years back.

But just as easily as Hodera vanished, they reappeared (perhaps with more longevity). So, much like we should consider the constraints for when a project is complete, we should too ponder when perhaps a project was sunset too soon and where there is still room to continue.

In the case of Hodera, You’re Worth It definitely feels like a chapter that was missing. It’s inviting and familiar, rife with the sort of comforting wordplay Smith’s lyrics are known for. The title, the impetus for reunion, and the band’s stance on mental health seem to point toward one major driving force for their persistence: their support base. It seems that a project once decidedly introspective has shaken its telephoto roots for a wider angle based around community – that this release, and the band’s resurgence, is for the community. It’s a sort of musical thank-you card. This alone was able to break whatever confines had been placed upon Hodera, if not expand the definition of Hodera as an entity.

Ultimately, it’s good to have Hodera back with this release. In all the questions and unknowns, the band have their reasons for their actions. Hodera’s career trajectory is one of intermittent rest and forceful rise, and the end result are songs that shimmer with struggle and endurance.

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