Friday, February 10, 2006

His Name Is Alive/Detrola/8.4

What matters is that Defever is doing exactly what we've always claimed to want from musicians. His world is his own, unique and uniquely stylized, describable less in terms of genre and more in terms of impressions: snow, transistor radios, empty rooms, sepia tones, dreams.

If you listen to music long enough, some interesting things happen. New bands that you like show up that sound like older bands you hated ten years prior. You begin making references to old artists that no one else remembers. Also, what seemed odd, cutting-edge or provocative in the past soon becomes commonplace.

I started listening to His Name Is Alive in the early 90's towards the end of a long love affair with 4AD records. His Name Is Alive's early records were unique at that time. The first two, Livonia and Home Is In Your Head, combined acoustic guitar with unsettling electronic sounds and haunting female vocals. I can't listen to The Books or most of the current New Weird America records without thinking of those first two HINIA records. Mouth By Mouth treads in more shoegazer territory, but still included the disturbing "Can't Go Wrong Without You" along with a sumptuous cover of Alex Chilton's "Blue Moon". His Name Is Alive's fourth record, Stars On E.S.P., was a Brian Wilson homage combining a variety of musical styles. Released in 1996, that record predates most of Elephant 6's revival of 60's pop. Whether it's Architecture In Helsinki, Broadcast or Akron/Family, many of my current favorite artists share a great deal in common sonically with HNIA's back catalog. So when I heard that Detrola was coming out, I was hoping to be taken in another new musical direction. However, after listening to Detrola, I don't see that new direction. Instead, Detrola mostly blends into the montage of current musical styles.

Listening to too much music seems to have spoilt my enjoyment of Detrola. For every good track on Detrola, I can think of another artist doing the same thing better. That said, there are still some good songs. "*C*A*T*S" merges electronic sounds with Andy FM's vocals for a catchy track. The closing track "Send My Face" starts out as a weird folk song, then is washed with reverberating guitars and strings, then closes in blend of acoustic guitar and electronic beeps. The first track would stand along anything by Broadcast; the second would go well with the Books or a track from Akron/Family's debut. However, after listening to each track, that's just what I want to do - go to my shelf, pull out the other CD and listen to it instead of Detrola. I just have a hard time sitting through this CD. When I go back and listen to Mouth By Mouth in comparison, I find myself lost in the tracks, starting at a particular song as a reference than listening to the next and the next. With Detrola, it just doesn't happen.

Nitsuh Abebe gave Detrola an 8.4 - a tenth of a point shy of a "Best New Music" rating. I'd probably shave that down a full point and then some to a flat 7.0. Detrola is an good record but not one of the best. I'd much sooner recommend Home Is In Your Head or Mouth By Mouth if you're new to His Name Is Alive. Given that those records are hard to find these days, Detrola may be the best you can do as a starting point.

If you listen to music long enough, you'll eventually hear yourself saying, "I like that band's earlier stuff better" and you shudder a little. Saying that feels like something you hear from people who've stopped buying records. However, with Detrola, I say that because I still buy new music and listen to new artists - and I continue to want something new from the music that I encounter. Detrola is good; as a fan, I'll still play it from time to time. However, it does not push the envelope as much as His Name Is Alive's past work.