Words by Brian Salvatore
When I was a college radio DJ in the early aughts, a few friends from that scene turned me onto Aloha, and I was hooked pretty instantly. The complex rhythms, the percussion, the impassioned vocals – they fit squarely into the Polyvinyl Records sound. Like many bands of that era, I lost a connection to their music a few years later, and aside from hearing them in the background of a party or on the radio, I hadn’t heard a new Aloha song in over a decade.
So, when I checked out Little Windows Cut Right Through, I had to check the email the record came in to make sure that this band was actually Aloha. Not a new band with that name, but the same Midwestern quartet that had released Sugar all those years ago. Because, at least initially, this band bears almost no resemblance to that band.
This album has songs that could – and probably should – be played on Top 40 radio. “Faraway Eyes” has a simple, driving beat and a hooky chorus and sounds far more like something from a montage on an MTV reality show than a song that would’ve come out of a low wattage college radio station in the early days of the George W. Bush administration. The drums have calmed down, the guitars have made way for keyboards, and the tempos have settled in.
If you can remove the songs from the context of the band recording them, many of these songs work really well. There are spots on the album where little hints of the ‘old’ Aloha pop up, but aside from a stronger auxiliary percussion presence than most pop records, there are very clues as to who this band used to be on the first few listens.
But I’m not mad that the band is growing and changing. In fact, I like a lot of these songs better than some of the band’s more complex and challenging material. A song like “Ocean Street” is lovely and moving, and will likely make it on an ‘evening on the deck drinking beer’ playlist later this summer. This is a fine record, but it will possibly not be recognized as such by a large swath of the band’s longtime fans, because it is just so foreign. No one goes to a pizza place and expects sushi.
In fairness, when you dig into the album and listen carefully, many of the ‘classic’ Aloha traits begin to peek through, and the album suddenly makes a lot more sense in the context of their catalog. “Flight Risk” practically sounds like a better produced out-take from 15 years ago. Aloha’s music has always been a little more worked over and arranged than many of their contemporaries’, and that hasn’t changed at all here – it is just that the ‘work’ here seems more focused on sonic production rather than instrumental arrangement.
The 21st century has done a lot of weird things to music, but perhaps the best thing it did was to remove the stigma of pop among the indie crowd. This record, though steeped in a more radio-friendly sound, is almost certainly not aiming for radio. It is admirable for a band to follow their muse to conclusions that may alienate them from those who have followed them for a long time. Aloha seems pretty steadfast in their convictions here, and have created an album that, while maybe not in their comfort zone, is as assured as anything they’ve ever created.
‘Little Windows Cut Right Through’
© May 6th, 2016
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