Friday, February 12, 2010
We're Not Above Reviewing Leaks: Aloha - Home Acres
When I first heard Aloha's 2008 EP, Light Works, I wasn't particularly impressed. Here was a band who had spent a decade building a reputation as an exciting, dynamic live act slowing down to offer a handful of hazy, gentle, grown up indie pop songs. On early listens, the EP was lacking because it didn't offer the usual mix of anthems and ballads, of soaring guitars, driving percussion, and exhilarating keyboard parts. Within a few months of the appearance of my lukewarm review of the EP, I'd grown to love it. That's the other thing about Aloha--some of their songs are immediate and urgent, they grab you on first listen and never let go. Some of their other songs, however, need a little more time to grow--ears need a chance to dig the melodies out of the arrangements, to identify the moments that quicken pulses and make the outside world disappear.
Aloha's upcoming album Home Acres has both types of moments in abundance. The album's first song, "Building a Fire," finds Aloha sounding as urgent as ever. Building on top of a throbbing bass line, the song establishes the album's mood and themes--a little bit dark, but shot through with warmth and hope. These elements, with help from the album's gloomy art, combine to create an absorbing and singular aesthetic for the album. The songs are tight and crisp, full of energetic hooks and driving rhythms, but there is always a catch, always something pulling the songs back to Earth, keeping them grounded--but in a good way. In fact, the cynical tractor-beam that keeps the songs from taking unimpeded flight is crucial to providing the tension that makes the songs on Home Acres, not just enjoyable, but downright necessary.
The songs range from the irrepressible ("Moonless March,") to the elegant ("Everything Goes My Way,") as they urgently struggle against themselves toward some sort of transcendence or resolution. "Moonless March," finds Aloha pushing tempo and melody against each other, pushing the hooks to their limits, while "Everything Goes My Way," constantly threatens to give in to its own weight until each appearance of its well-earned, anthemic chorus. Perhaps the album's strongest moment is its final track, "Ruins." While this isn't anything new for Aloha--they have a knack for excellent album closers--"Ruins" pushes the band and album into new territory. Much of the song sounds like quintessential Aloha, Tony Cavallario's simple but effective vocal melody rides on pulsing drums and wandering keyboard lines. But then, as the song reaches its closing moments, Aloha raise the stakes, maintaining the familiar while pushing into pure power-pop territory. All of the layers and textures are still in place, but the end result is the biggest, boldest anthem that Aloha have ever put to tape. Home Acres isn't all big hooks and anthems though, more nuanced, layered pieces like "White Wind," and "I'm in Trouble," give the listener room to breathe, while also providing some of the album's loveliest moments. They don't hit immediately on first listen, but they're worth the extra time and they provide the album with an excellent sense of balance.
More than ten years, five LP's, and a handful of EP's into their career, it's impressive that Aloha don't just manage to sound fresh and vital, but manage to push out from their core sound to create a new, exciting listening experience. In an interview with Stereo Subversion, Cavallario described his thought process in writing the new album as an exercise in considering American prosperity then "stripping that away and thinking of what comes after that." The end result is an album that slips effortlessly between gentle mid-tempo numbers, crisp pop songs, and big anthems, constantly asking us to consider the tension between where we are, and where we could be heading, standing outside of the ruins "waiting for the get-a-way car that never came."
Aloha's Home Acres is out on March 9 on Polyvinyl Records. Preorder the album here.