By: Todd Goldstein
Michigan’s His Name Is Alive champions that delicious mid-’90s ear-drug known as dream pop, a perennially overlooked subgenre that, more than ever, is due for a resurgence. And though they’re on their eleventh (!) studio album (with countless EPs and live albums in their wake), guitarist Warn Defever and singer Andy FM don’t show many signs of fatigue. If anything, they’ve sharpened their ears, paring down the once-saturated soundscapes of their earlier, 4AD-released albums, to Detrola‘s fine, minimalist squall. Squirrely vintage keyboards, shards of guitar, and free-jazz saxophone twirl above dinky drum-machine beats, retaining only Warn and Andy’s simple, sad songwriting as a skeleton.
These days, His Name Is Alive come off most like a wistful American counterpart to the U.K.’s Broadcast: electro-pop with a barely discernible human heart. After the eerie “Introduction” — which acts as statement of sonic purpose with electronic clicks and swirls popping in the distance as violins drone and that ubiquitous saxophone trills — the band launches into “After I Leave U,” a spare, noisy electronic pop song, all acid-bass and buzzsaw synth tones. The song is almost alienating, introducing such a distance between artist and listener that one could wonder where the fuzzy HNIA of yore had gone. And yet, there’s Andy FM’s voice, her calm, dry falsetto keeping the whole thing grounded. Like Prince, whose style this song evokes in more ways than the title, HNIA have learned to perfectly balance technology and soul.
Detrola is dizzyingly eclectic, veering from the warm ’70s bounce of “I Thought I Saw” to the frigid techno of “*C*A*T*S*” without losing any of the loveliness of HNIA’s best work. Despite the abundant bells and whistles, the album works best when the band purposely evokes their roots, as on the dreamy folk of “Your Bones.” There, all of the elements are allowed to support each other, the simplicity of the song finding a comfortable home in an acoustic guitar and a voice, the electronic elements kept to a tantalizing minimum, with Andy FM lightly intoning “not everyone gets a warning.” We sure didn’t see this one coming.
His Name Is Alive is currently on tour with slowcore pioneers Low:
1/26, Milwaukee, WI (Miramar Theatre)1/27, Chicago, IL (Logan Square Auditorium)1/28, Cleveland, OH (The Grog Shop)1/30, Detroit, MI (The Magic Stick)1/31, Toronto, ON (Lee’s Palace)2/2, Cambridge, MA (Middle East Downstairs)2/3, Brooklyn, NY (Southpaw)2/4, Washington, DC (Black Cat)2/6, New York, NY (Bowery Ballroom)2/7, Philadelphia, PA (First Unitarian Church)2/8, Milvale PA (Mr. Small’s Theatre)