Aloha
Sugar
2002
Polyvinyl
10 tracks
45:01

There are a million coy ways to describe this band. A million glib and less-than-helpful ways that a writer’s wit can cast an overbearing shadow upon this band. I’ll restrain because this is important. Simply, Aloha could be your favourite band if they wanted to be. If they wanted to be, they could be your emo wonder boys on the cover of Rolling Stone, your math rock maestros that you use to separate yourself from your peers, the masters of chill creating thick space rock or sparse intentional compositions, or the ideal fey dreamboat hiding behind his expressive piano. Instead Aloha has chosen to be their own favourite band.

As background music, Sugar is disjointed and inconsistent. With headphones the album is beyond enthralling. With each listen a different instrument, or even line, snares your attention. But like stereographs, it’s best to relax and step back a little; otherwise you’re likely to follow a meandering vibraphone or galloping snare, missing the glory of the composition. It’s generally a crapshoot when a band contains musicians, Aloha have made the most of their formal musical training, and, as with the jazz that plays such a big part of Aloha’s sound, they know when the throw out the rules and play from the heart.

The album begins slowly with gentle washes that soon give way to chiming xylophone. Gradually the xylophone becomes more insistent and is joined by tribal drums before exploding into the album’s first song, ‘They See Rocks’. ‘Rocks’ is a piano-laden rocker with an urgently bubbling rhythm and completely mesmerizing countermelody played on vibraphone. Can a countermelody be Dave Brubeckian? Well, this one can.

Other highlights include ‘Let Your Head Hang Low’, with its pop-forward approach, pulsating rhythms, and a host of underemphasized atmospheric elements. Is it possible that Peter Gabriel could be referenced when describing indie rock? In ‘It Wont Be Long’ the band forsakes gimmicks entirely and creates driving and dark rock that might sound more familiar to fans of The Police (Synchronicity era) than those who spend their time listening to Death Cab for Cutie. ‘Protest Song’ features dense compositions of layered and distorted sounds. Drums shimmer and tremble along side of phased guitars and synthesized electronic squalls. ‘Thieves All Around Us’ has a familiar indie jerk to it that, although subdued, could have as easily come from The Dismemberment Plan if it weren’t for the lazy pacing and samba undertones. A sophisticated vocal line wraps around a strong pop melody in ‘Dissolving’, however ‘I Wish No Chains Upon You’ which follows takes an honest Ben Folds delivery and combines it with a Joe Jackson wit.

While name-dropping can’t fully describe this band, I’m left with no other language. Aloha has taken music’s core and assembled it using their own rules and sensibilities. Pop doesn’t mean pop anymore, labels like ‘jazz’ and ‘indie’ are meaningless, and Aloha should be your favourite band.