Aloha are the perfect band for the 21st century, mainly because they form a cohesive sound in a digital age. Though the band’s members live in different locations throughout the Northeastern USA, they are guided by a very specific kind of energy and always find way to make completely original sounds. This band was an unexpanded find when I first heard them: a smooth, pop music sophistication that is very complex and endearing. Some have called it “progressive-pop”, but that is very misleading, it’s just easy going music that is put together in sometimes unconventional ways and often uses the vibraphone as a lead instrument. Their music always sets up its compelling atmosphere and that makes it achieve different sounds within that mood, and it is a wonder to behold. Aloha are one of the more underrated bands of all time.
Tony Cavallario – Vocals, Guitar
Matthew Gengler – Bass
Cale Parks – Drums
T.J. Lipple – Vibraphone, Marimba (2004-current)
Eric Koltnow – Vibraphone, Synths (2000-2004)
Best Album: Home Acres
Biggest Influences: Yes, Genesis, Sea and Cake, Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M.
2000 – (4 / 5) – That’s Your Fire
2002 – (3 / 5) – Sugar
2004 – (1.5 / 5) – Here Comes Everyone
2006 – (4.5 / 5) – Some Echoes
2010 – (5 / 5) – Home Acres
That’s Your Fire – (4 / 5)
Aloha’s debut has more in common with old school Jazz music of the 1940’s and 50’s than any kind of melodic pop music. It makes you wonder that eternal question: what exactly IS rock music when the lead instrument of a band is a vibraphone? Every single song on here flows into the other one, making this a really great sounding record that has a loose and open feel about, hinting the music could spiral into almost any direction. There are moments of genius for sure: “Ferocious Love” makes the alternating time signatures of progressive rock very accessible and announces singer distinctive mix of raw emotion and beautiful tranquility; “A Hundred Stories” features some genius drum/percussion work from the band, specifically drummer Cale Parks; “Saint Loraine” rocks out despite some odd jazz and rhythm&blues merging throughout. Even though the album flows from one track to each other, no two songs are alike on the album and despite a somewhat live and lo-fi production, songs as diverse as the languid “There, There”, the passive opener “Last Night I dreamt You Slept Beside Me”, and the epic nine minute “Heading East” which recalls King Crimson’s complex soothing timbers, all stand out in magnificent ways. The band is great at ending a record too, with the propulsive “Sky High” being another dramatic highlight. Perhaps there are a couple of misfires, as tunes such as “Don’t Sleep” and “With the Lights Out We Sleep” threaten to stop the albums momentum and certain merely good songs such as “Liberty” never quite form into something cohesive. Overall, That’s Your Fire is a solid debut album that holds up fifteen years later and sets a one of a kind type of music wide open for reinterpretation.
Greatest Tracks: Headed East, Sky High, Ferocious Love, Saint Loarain
Sugar – (3 / 5)
This album starts off like no other album I have ever heard, with a ringing and clanging of Vibraphones and xylophones for about two minutes. It is unique, I will give it that! Unfortunately, the remainder of the record is a shell of what they had showed off on their debut That’s My Fire. What’s left is odd emo-esque posturing that was popular and typical of many early 2000’s releases, with way too much vibraphone (the biggest offender is “Protest Song”). Now, you may ask yourself what is ‘way too much vibraphone?’ as that is not a thing that people usually say. My response would be almost any song on this album, let’s say the second track “They See Rocks”, where there is no real melody or structure just reverbed gonging instruments that seem to ring out way too long over a song with an odd time signature. Now Aloha can still impress, as “Bailing Phase” and “Thieves All Around Us” use the band’s special qualities as strengths and some great moments are achieved. “It Won’t Be Long” perhaps has the greatest example of this kind of blend, as Neu style rhythmic keyboards are played in the background while an R.E.M. style melody is sung over it. The album as a whole is pampered with studio effects as well: reverb, phaser, fade in’s on vocals, etc. and I have found usually this results in hiding a lack of song craft. The musicians are great, especially drummer Cale Parks stand out as one of the best of his era, but most of the songs are very boring and do not grab your attention. Plus…..there really is just too much vibraphone on this s.o.b.
Greatest Songs: It Won’t Be Long, Thieves All around Us, Balling Phase
Here Comes Everyone – (1.5 / 5)
Well they hired a new vibraphone/marimba player (big surprise)! This whole album just kind of wonders aimlessly, and you can tell the band were going through some kind of internal crisis. Skip It.
Greatest Songs: Goodbye the Factory, Summer Away, Thermostat
Some Echoes – (4.5 / 5)
This album improves upon the previous two, and then some! Opener “Brace Your Face” is a six-minute progressive rock manifesto, signaling that the band that created 2000’s That’s Your Fire is back in business. Among the band’s new accessible attitude lies the melodic pop of “Your Eyes” and “Weekend” provide some fun moments of bliss; “Big Morning” and “Come Home” are the brooding ballads with touches of neuroses; the magnificent “If I Lie Down” just being the record’s outstandingly good ballad. Some great introspection is shown on “Between the Walls” with the lyric, “are we dying as in death? Or are we being born again?” If there was a continuation of their progressive sound on here, it would have to be in the Yes inspired “Summer Lawn”, which is a great 70’s sounding mystic track.
In all, Some Echoes shows off a band ready to prove to the world that great pop albums (with synths and vibraphones) can still be made, and it just sounds so easy to do! They have somehow found a connection with the psych pop of the sixties and instrumental complexity of experimental jazz; think of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis meets The Turtles. Of course it is not all fun and games, as the pounding closer “Mountain” points out with the band always looking toward the future singing, “upward, ever, forever, upward, forever”. It might not sound profound, but somehow singer Tony Cavallario makes it great. If there is a better prog-pop record in 2006 I’d be shocked, but by any standard, Some Echoes is a masterpiece.
Greatest Songs: If I Lie Down, Big Morning, Weekend, Your Eyes
Home Acres – (5 / 5)
Aloha have proved to be one of the greatest alternative bands working in the last decade time and time again, and they may have reached the pinnacle of their art with Home Acres. The playing is better, the music has maintained its own unique voice, and it is a really consistent listen. “Building a Fire” is literally is a moody build up to the true opening song “Moonless March”, featuring one of the greatest drum intros/parts ever recorded in rock music (can we say hats off to Cale FUCKIN’ Parks just one more time?!?). The second part of that song is a moment where marimbas, drums, and guitar play in unison like nothing else ever heard. “The shimmering quality of the keyboards is also brought to light on songs such as “Waterwheel” and the smooth ballad “I’m In Trouble”, likewise the shimmering guitar lines of “Everything Goes My Way” truly create a solar system of their own. “Microviolence” may be a standout single, as it demonstrates how Tony Calavallero’s singing can blend eloquently with the marimba lines of T.J. Lipple and maintain a pop song elegance.
“Blackout” and “Seaarchlight” have an immediate bounce kind of quality that will bring in new listeners, while closer “Ruins” maintains the prog-rock quality that they have always had in them by being two spectacular songs in one, the first moody and psychedelic and the last one rocking and anthemic; it’s their personal “Stairway to Heaven”. Even the two less interesting songs in the middle have good moments in them (“White Wind” with it’s odd time signatures and “Cold Storage” with its relentless drums and quirky guitar lines) and the playing is always vibrant (with vibraphone!) Again, more people should listen to this band! No one can make an album quite like Aloha where every song truly feeds off the other like energy being transferred from one electron to the next. Home Acres is the definition of a hidden gem of a rock album.
Greatest Songs: Microviolence, Everything Goes Your Way, Moonless March
Compilations (Live Albums, B- Sides, EP’s, etc.)
Light Works – (4.5 / 5)
One of the better EP’s I have ever heard, this EP expands on the sounds of the band in all the right ways. They have gone from being “that indie band that uses vibraphones” to crafting a unique sound out of acoustic instruments. The marching pulse of “Broken Light” is a great example of this as the song transports the listener to another world. “Trick Spring” and opener “Body Buzz” have similar qualities, though they are softer and hardly have any percussion; it should be said that part of a great drummer is knowing when to be restrained and they have this quality down to a science. “Passengers” and “Gold World” build off of the pop ballads of Some Echoes from a year before, the former being a stronger example of how to do it proper, even incorporating some Beatle-esque harmonies. Closer “Equinox” is a n ever shifting movement of repetitious melodies that is perfect for a last Sunday picnic or an in depth headphone experience and its maybe the band’s best attempt at a long song at almost seven minutes. What is successful about this EP should give little doubt that Aloha are one of the most exciting bands around these days though unfortunately also one of the most unknown.