Audio Mixer: TJ Lipple.
Recording information: Key Club Recording Co; The Bastille, Alexandria, VA.
Midwestern experimentalists Aloha have earned a reputation over the years as musical shapeshifters, working the outside edges of post-rock, indie pop, and even jazz while generally adhering to their own code of restlessness. Following 2010's more guitar-based and indie rock-oriented Home Acres, they return after a six-year break with the mesmerizing Little Windows Cut Right Through, a lush synth pop set that recalls '80s art-pop acts like the Blue Nile and Talk Talk. It's also the most immediately accessible and mature album in their catalog, teeming with quality songwriting and clever studio craft. From the bright, Balearic shades of opener "Signal Drift" to the sensuous warmth of "One Hundred Million," this dreamy new sound suits them well. Frequently known for their focus on percussion, Aloha continue to play with rhythms, rarely taking the more straightforward path even in the context of what is essentially a pop album. Lyrically, singer Tony Cavallario's themes of self-doubt and existential reflection add a melancholy tone that offsets Little Windows' bright production. On "Moon Man," a mid-album standout, he sings "to be human is to be terrified, nothing scares you more than wasting time" before launching into the song's exultant chorus. The appealingly moody "Swinging for the Fences" is another highlight, pitting dark against light over a sound bed of new wave chill. As a whole, the album sits quite nicely as each song transitions smoothly to the next with a well-designed cohesion. Still, there are a number of strong tracks that could even serve as potential breakout singles for Aloha, which is a rather odd thing to say about what is generally considered a post-rock band nearly two decades into their career. Whether or not they remain in this mode on future outings, Little Windows is a wholly engaging set that boasts plenty of vision. ~ Timothy Monger