By all logical reasoning, I should love Aloha. As a percussionist, I should be a complete sucker for a band employing two talented percussionists, one manning the kit and one jumping between unwieldy, tour-unready mallet instruments like marimba and vibraphone to keyboards to toy chests of auxiliary shakers and what-have-you to.
This is what drew me to them in the first place when I bought Aloha’s 2002 album, Sugar--that and the soft allure of the Punch-Drunk Love-style artwork. While that album had moments I loved, I returned to it rarely over the years. Why? Despite dual pounders in the group, the overall sound of the group seemed to follow the artwork’s blurred edges, with wimpy guitars and meandering progressions, and Tony Cavallario’s plain, everyman voice not demanding my full attention. I later got a promo copy of 2004’s Here Comes Everyone and perhaps because I got it free (and not by request) I didn't give it many spins, and when I did it also seemed to simply float into the ether. I never got 2006’s Some Echoes despite Jesse’s insistence, and when he reviewed the 2007 EP-ish Light Works and described it as gentler and lighter on percussion, I thought Well, I’m done with these guys. Still, I got main kit-man Cale Parks’ second solo album, Sparklace, to review in 2008 and it was moderately enjoyable but mainly from a drummer’s perspective.
Jesse is one persistent mofo. He took it upon himself to get Home Acres sent to me by Polyvinyl, since he could not review it for both Alternative Press and the ‘Org. He told me to check out an old Daytrotter session to be convinced of their ability to rock out. There you’ll find an early version of “Moonless March,” which they must have shelved because it certainly wouldn't have fit on the softer Light Works.
Aloha can indeed rock out, and they finally do on Home Acres. “Moonless March” has a hihat-accent-driven beat as persistent as Jesse’s hounding, helped along by buzzing bass tones. And the vocals are actually catchy! Cavallario’s vocals are still un-punk-ly pleasant, but the melody grabs ahold this time. “Searchlight,” though, has gotta be the catchiest thing the band has ever put to tape: "We want what everyone wants / Good days and sunshine / Heeeey love (hey love) / Heeeey love (hey love) / Pray for the searchlight, pray for shadows." Plus, it’s upbeat and the progressions push the song in cool directions (the bridge is rad, too) rather than dwelling in some hazy, ambient indie rock world. “Blackout” rocks too, with a tom-pounding beat and melody shared by piano and vocals. I especially dig the short breakdowns which Parks ends by bringing the beat back with nice triplet fills, the second being pretty lengthy. The interplay between the synth arpeggios and the ghost notes subdividing the sneakily complex drum part make “Ruins” for me, though it does build up well, waiting until the four-minute mark to let loose with Cavallario peaking with "Waiting for the getaway car that never came!"
However, there still are some snoozers that hold back the record for me. “White Wind” is alright. I like the little keyboard line and subtle meter changes. “I’m In Trouble” is well-crafted, but just saunters by without much notice--same with “Everything Goes My Way.” “Microviolence” has a cool marimba part by T.J. Lipple and multimeter changes the band pulls off effortlessly, but is still ‘meh.’
Home Acres is surely my favorite Aloha album now, because they turn things up while keeping their complexity. However, I am still having trouble connecting fully with about half of the album. It’s taken me so long to get this review, in part because I'm struggling to figure out why such a lack of connection. While I still don’t have an answer, I can say that this is Aloha’s best record. What I can’t say is if it will sneak onto my year-end list; only time will tell.