His Name Is Alive released an extremely limited edition series of “Cloud Boxes”, which featured 10-cd sets of new music from the band, including its 2001 Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most album being totally different than the original release. This plethora of new material might cause some to believe that their new full-length album, recorded in Detroit (as if the title didn’t give that impression), is a logical step from their 2002 Last Night effort. The only different here however is whereas the former tended to go off on lovely sonic tangents from time to time on songs like “Someday My Prince Will Come” and the title track, this lean, less-than-40 minutes release comes across as more focused. The “Introduction” is a spacey, psychedelic sort of starter that features some sultry jazz-tinted vocals alongside a gorgeous saxophone. From there some spacey, atmospherics begin. Think of Gillian Welch singing with a sax and you get the overall, dirge-like, dreary impression. It’s also seemingly performed in front of an audience (at least momentarily), which gives it more flair or spice.
Just when you think it is going to be something of a traditional, perhaps roots-oriented album, they toss in “After I Leave U”, an electro-pop song in the vein of Ladytron. Not quite electo-clash but pretty darn close, the band never truly hit paydirt with this attempt, relying on some tired synthesized sound and the occasionally vocoder. It’s somewhat disappointing to be honest, a complete curveball that comes off as a definite miss. From there, His Name Is Alive veer into a light, jazz pop arrangement for “I Thought I Saw” which could be the Number One hit that The Carpenters never got the chance to record - light, breezy but oh so catchy. It seamlessly melds into “In My Dream” with another electro-pop feeling, although this time there is some guitar riffs that beef the ditty up. It’s as if His Name Is Alive got inspired for this song by listening to the Empire Records soundtrack once or nine times too often. Nonetheless it is a catchy tune with Erika Hoffmann’s hushed, closeted vocals and Elliott Bergmann lending a hand on saxophone and mbira.
Perhaps expecting or anticipating a thread of where Last Night took them is a big and rather false assumption as “*C*A*T*S*” again focuses on a slick, synthesized sound and fairly ordinary, mundane arrangement. Only the light, pretty vocal in the vein of Natalie Merchant or Aimee Mann is what saves it from being a track well worth skipping over. His Name Is Alive excel on some of the pleasing, ear candy experiments such as the almost aquatic sounding “Your Bones” that could be mistaken for a Tegan & Sara or Juliana Hatfield cover.
The biggest problem with the record is how often His Name Is Alive scrap the bottom of this gentle pop vibe, diminishing the early efforts by continuously revisiting the same ground. “You Need A Heart” is a tad different thankfully as it continues a deep bass line thanks to Jamie Saltsman plucking the standup bass (does everyone’s name end in “man” or “mann” here?) and a happy-go-lucky, strolling melody. This momentum continues on the bouncy, somewhat swinging “Get Your Curse” that you can immerse yourself into immediately if not sooner.
The showstopper has to be “Seven Minutes” that sounds like Peaches fell into a jazz club and decided to go with the flow just for the H-E-double hockey sticks of it. It’s perhaps the closest they come to getting a funky Prince-like vibe on the record, with great saxophone solos by Matthew Bauder (aha, his name doesn’t end in “man” or “mann”!) His Name Is Alive keeps things fresh for themselves, but whether they’ve placated their fan base with this album remains to be seen. If the entire album was as pretty as the coda “Send My Face”, this would be a slam dunk. Instead, it bounces off the backboard, rolls around the rim a few times and finally scores.