Greetings From Alaska

March 11, 2010

Greetings From Alaska
Matt L. Hall
 

The Band: Halloween, Alaska
The Disc: Too Tall To Hide

“Mail Call!” My roommate stands in the center of the room in his pajamas. It’s 4:00pm in the afternoon, and his normal day job has been overruled by a mild case of the truants. He hoists a brown paper package in my direction and I almost spill my late day cup of coffee trying to grab it before it hits the floor. In my head “Chariots Of Fire” plays while the slow motion grab of my fingers misses the airborne package entirely. It falls to the floor with an audible “Thump” and I remind myself that Too Tall To Hidewood floors and compact disc cases don’t mix.  However this package has been carefully padded “With Recycled Material” and I breathe a sigh of relief as I tear open the sealed fold. Reaching inside I flinch as I pull the package contents out and lay them on the center of the living room table. Nothing cracked, nothing broken.  As I remind my roommate that he is indeed an asshole, I open the folded, one-page note that accompanies a pre-release compact disc by a band I’ve never heard of. A band from Minneapolis, MN interestingly named “Halloween, Alaska.”
I have a ritual with CD’s that I receive in the mail. I open them furiously, and with the roaring excitement of a child at Christmas time I proceed directly into my bedroom to listen to them in air-conditioned silence. This time is no exception. However, when the first nuances of “A New Stain” invade my eardrums, I’m reminded why I love good music once again.

The album art is simple, a light blue with a large red man sitting cross-legged on the front cover. The title, “Too Tall To Hide” reminds me of an Adam Sandler bit I’d heard just hours earlier. The back cover lists nine tracks, and has a picture of the same red man, only this time he is ominously holding what can only be described as a large, two-handled (and quite bloody) knife. Death metal imagery perhaps? No, what I’m hearing out of the speakers sounds nothing like the latest hardcore, grindcore, skatecore, or any other –core bands. Instead, a bouncy synthesizer and a reverb-laden voice claim this real estate for indie pop.

Although Halloween, Alaska has been compared to the likes of pop giants Death Cab For Cutie, Everything But The Girl, and TV On The Radio, this troupe carves a special niche in the genre. At the center, the unique voice of James Diers is nothing short of spectacular. The beginnings of the second track on the album “Drowned” starts with Diers crooning softly and almost insecurely into the first few bars. By the middle of the track he has refocused his energy and in a startling crescendo you are blasted out of your chair onto the floor beside you. Couple Diers’ voice with the drum technique  of David King and the bass lines of Matt Friesen and you’ve got solid song foundation. Piano player and keyboardist Ev, who adds intimacy to the Halloween, Alaskastyling of an already talented group of musicians, builds upon that foundation. Standout tracks like the aforementioned “Drowned” and “Forever” show the duality of this album. It’s deliciously decadent, one part morning coffee, and one part after dinner mint.

With the eighth offering “Receiving Line” we are greeted by an ode to the next-door neighbor, Emily, a seemingly beautiful Catholic girl who has caught Diers’ eye. From the lyrics “In the attic, empty / we are k-i-s-s-i-n-g / and in the company of everyone else / we are less than meant to be” we realize that this song is told from the perspective of reflection, in the tongue of an adolescent boy. With rave reviews from such publications as Amplifier, Splendid, and Pulse to their credit it’s clear this is an act you don’t want to miss. From fizzy textures to sonic layering this is an enduring group that will have to be listened to multiple times just to revel in its genius.

At least that’s the way that the musical director over at Fox’s The O.C. feels. Last season, Halloween, Alaska featured two tracks from their self-titled debut album on The O.C. and many producers are itching to license more tracks. While not your conventional method of media promotion, Halloween, Alaska is also embracing podcasting as a proprietary vehicle. With terrestrial radio listenership on the decline, more and more independent bands are waking up to the fact that technology can help them reach a larger audience. With methods like satellite radio, podcasting and streaming internet radio, bands can reach thousands more people than by conventional methods.

Overall, “Too Tall To Hide” is a lyrical and musical delight. It pulses with an ambience all its own. It plays hide and seek with musical genres and while generically labeled as pop music, sometimes we find ourselves lost in Jazz country. While at other times it feels like the lost recordings of an unknown 80’s super group. Though the name Halloween, Alaska states a place that is not on any U.S. map, you can be sure that these guys are making their mark in a place that hovers somewhere around Minneapolis.

  More information on Halloween, Alaska may be obtained at the official website,
http://www.halloweenalaska.com, or by visiting East Side Digital at http://www.e-s-d.com/.

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