Hanalei is the solo efforts of one Brian Moss, started several months prior to the disbandment of Chicago's post-punk outfit The Ghost. Where as The Ghost capitalized on a number of influences that ran the gamut from Hot Water Music to [insert legendary Chicago punk band here], Moss orchestrates things a little differently - We Are All Natural Disasters is a wonderful little bout of partially-electro, acoustically-accompanied indie pop with slight shades of folk.
Though Moss might owe a debt of gratitude to The Postal Service for popularizing the "smooth, pretty indie male pop vocals over electronic programming" thing, there's a definite Kinsella-like sound in the guitar tone and overall expression musically. Maybe it's the incredibly soothing nature of Moss's voice, or the boggling complexity of a one-man project, but I'm sure fans of Owen's last effort would find a lot of enjoyment in We Are All Natural Disasters as well.
At first, Moss rotates between tracks relying heavily on electronics and pure acoustic-and-drum-machine-led tracks - the first four literally take turns favoring either the programming or simple acoustics. As the disc continues, however, the formula really seems to die, with Moss either throwing in sparse amounts of blips or following string-heavy compositions. Though the best songs are spread out nicely, the latter half could be a bit stronger in areas, as its melodies seem to die in favor of irritable repetitions. The album itself is fairly consistent, though, as you might still find yourself singing along as "John Hughes Endings" rolls in.
"Action Drum" is easily the standout, as it opens with a modest drumloop only to suddenly collaborate with upbeat acoustics and Moss's fleetly sang lines of "concrete veins and fast food chains / stretch out on purgatory's plains / they are ruins still in tact / they are apathetic shrines / they are soul sucking traps." It's simply, overall, a wonderful pop song to open the disc and the best first impression of a kind that can be made, as it best showcases the flow of Moss's voice as well. His background yells of "fractured frames cannot confine us! / empty names cannot define us!" during the chorus is the icing on the cake. Based solely on the merits of this song, Hanalei should be huge.
"Hopeful Hands" is a catchy number, too, with Moss flexing his lyrical muscle singing "I've got a comma in my pocket / and you've got a dot dot dot / we could steal some sugar from blank pages / we could taste life if we don't get caught." There's really strong songwriting elements to be found just about everywhere on the disc, as though Moss does sing about relationships and romance the majority of the time, he's vague or symbolic enough to constantly get away with it fine; it really helps carry the album.
We Are All Natural Disasters is, while a bit weak in areas, a fine listen and a worthy debut with a lot of replayability. Brian Moss's one-man collaborations are apparently creative enough to hold up for an entire full-length, and I'll be following wherever Hanalei takes him.
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