Over the course of the past few years and the past few albums, His Name Is Alive have gone from a band on the fringe to a group who are critical darlings in several music circles. Although the 15 minutes of fame from their involvement in the Jerry McGuire soundtrack was up about five minutes ago, they continue to put out interesting and never run-of-the-mill material as evidenced by 2006’s Detrola. And despite soon releasing a new album entitled Sweet Earth Flower dedicated to noted jazz musician Marion Brown, His Name Is Alive had time to issue this record, one which only adds more luster to a growing catalogue of stunning work.
Although not quite as syrupy or rich as a group like The Polyphonic Spree, the opening song “Young Blood” has a light, airy vibe featuring singer Andrea Francesca Morici’s ethereal voice over an orchestral-meets-pop arrangement. This slowly evolves and a subtle but more prominent electronica component begins to enter the fray. However, instead of going on for about five minutes or longer to flesh out the idea, the song is more of a teaser of ensuing music, ending and leaving fans wanting just a bit more. Meanwhile just as pleasing is the gentle and strolling “Go to Hell Mountain” that brings to mind the likes of Canadian chanteuse Julian Dorion among others. There’s also a distinct hue of The Carpenters in their heyday with the sway-inducing melody being the icing on the cake.
However, pigeonholing His Name Is Alive is akin to calling Dylan “Judas” for going electric: stupid. A far more organic and intricate tune is “The Wolf Put His Mouth on Me” that could be misconstrued for something they created with M.I.A. being responsible for the final mix. It seems to be a far busier tune than they are known for, but everything here is in the right places, including the Caribana-tinged horns, which push the song along perfectly. Perhaps the first true highlight of the record is how surprisingly well “How Dark Is Your Dark Side” comes across, fusing a pinch of the Orient with a steady electro-rock groove, as Morici seems to channel The Blake Babies backed by Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore.
The two biggest drawbacks here are basically two musical interludes that don’t seem to add anything to the record. “Oh Miss Flower” resembles a Rod Stewart-ish arrangement from his “Lochnivar” or Smiler period. Although it leads nicely into the ensuing song, it just seems like filler. Only slightly better is “Intra Ultra”. However these are forgiven when the band opts for the leaner, militaristic “What Color Was the Blood” that marches along without any flaws or bumps. And the same quality comes along during the groovy meld of country-rock propelling “Put It in Your Mind”.
Although it is a very strong album, the band doesn’t quite reach the heights of Detrola here as no one song seems to jump out and grab you by the throat here. Probably the closest they get to this is “When You Fall for Someone” with its gorgeous pop sensibilities that have a darker, mysterious underbelly. Yet things go what one thinks is quite askew only to bring things back into a glorious ending with “Come to Me”, a strong finisher that seems to again bring some island instrumentation along with a Grade A groove. Overall, His Name Is Alive does nothing to diminish their achievements with this album, but one might have hoped for just a hair more oomph.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
// Notes from the Road
"Saul Williams played a free, powerful Summerstage show ahead of his appearance at Afropunk this weekend.READ the article