While it is arguable that the vast majority of modern music is naught but cut-paste rehashing of the tried-and-true sounds of yore, there are still those who manage to add something new to the greater sonic collage. Maybe it's just a different way of looking at the same-old, same-old. Maybe it's an avant-garde assemblage of erstwhile contradictory sounds, such as the "ooh, what's that!?" appeal of a folk artist taking up an electric guitar and a backing band, a hard rock foursome backed by a string quartet, a rap artist sampling big band horns and swing rhythms, or a pop band embracing the droll story-telling of the picaresque.
Whichever the way, it works—interest is piqued through defamiliarization, and the old is made brand-spanking-new again. Or, at the very least, it is made to seem that way.
Make no mistake: the basis of Aloha's sound is an old one, heavily steeped in the lush pop melodies of Pet Sounds and the brassy rhythms of Kenny Clarke. Yet it also plays with the angular, vamped guitars and shifting soundscapes of post-rock, all interwoven with the unmistakable percussion of piano and marimba and the varying tones of a Mellotron. It's a strange musical tapestry that, for all of its complexity, would surely fall to pieces were any of its divergent elements to be removed.
Luckily, Tony Cavallario, Matthew Gengler, T.J. Lipple, and Cale Parks were careful enough to secure any and all loose threads. Hand-stitched with patient care, Aloha's 2006 release Some Echoes is their fourth full-length offering to date, and arguably their tightest. Cavallario's oft-doubled vox affect a spacey casualness rather than their previous sense of barely-restrained urgency, and his guitar joins Gengler's bass in the back-seat while Lipple's marimba and Mellotron and Parks's dynamic percussion vie for shotgun. Generally, this gives Some Echoes a more relaxed feel than Aloha's earlier efforts. It's more thoughtful and slower on the uptake, and thereby less appealing, at least initially. Although the snare-centric percussion, airy vocals, sparse guitar, and marimba topper of lead-in track "Brace Your Face" do not grab you with the same immediacy as the bright brass and sharp riffs of "All the Wars" (off 2004's Here Comes Everyone), their slow build into Mellotron harmonies somehow feels more rewarding.
For all intents and purposes, Aloha are working with a doubled metaphor throughout Some Echoes. First and foremost, there's the effects-laden instrumentation: sound shooting back and forth in a delayed call-response of shimmering guitar chords cascading off of snappy percussion, low-lying rhythms providing an earthy counterpoint to the ethereal drone of a Mellotron and the airy taps of a marimba. Think pop-rock with jazz tendencies, plus a heaping dose of prog-rock sensibility. Then there's Cavalliaro's self-harmonizing vocals that resonate with the echoes of memory, like "Weekend" and its slow-fading visions of loved ones, mental images held to with the stubborn futility of a man grasping at lose planks of timber in the midst of a wide and turbulent sea. It's a losing struggle, maybe, but for the hope and regeneration provided by new experiences (or the promise thereof): "I try to take the feeling with me, my head is full but my hands are empty. This is only temporary... Forgetting the things I've carried, but I know someday they'll find me."
Though a little sappy at times—the lyrics tend towards the sad-sack love song end of the pop spectrum—Aloha's multifaceted instrumentation provides a nice juxtaposition to their maudlin tendencies. There's a nice range to the arrangements, moving from the slow and steady musings of "Brace Your Face" and "Come Home" to the peppier bass lines and snappier percussion of "Big Morning," "Weekend," and "Mountain." Just don't expect anything quite as upbeat as earlier Aloha tracks like "The Sound Between," "Summer Away," or "A Hundred Stories."
While more cohesive than Aloha's earlier albums, Some Echoes is that much harder to get into. Those looking for drum-and-guitar-fueled tracks will find themselves left with piano chords and Mellotron loops—while not an unfair trade, per se, it may disappoint those hoping for the comfort of riffs from a six-string.
Audio Reviews (November 11th, 2006)
Tags: audio, review, aloha, some echoes, polyvinyl record co.