[13 June 2011]
You can’t say we haven’t been warned. Anyone who’s been following NYC’s Hooray for Earth since they released their ecstatic, shape-shifting Momo EP last summer knows that the band has been confidently inching toward some sort of game-changing breakthrough. Over the last 12 months the band has toured with Pains of Being Pure at Heart, collaborated with Twin Shadow, and released an almost comically over the top, special effects heavy music video, the likes of which we rarely see these days from anyone who isn’t Lady Gaga. Of course, a strong buzz can be a double-edged sword. Bands with heat-seeking status often attract a crowd of naysayers looking to spread negativity for negativity’s sake. If Hooray for Earth has attracted any haters, they won’t be looking for anything but the bottom half of their jaws once they hear the band’s latest LP. The seismic, synth-speckled True Loves is an expectations-exceeding triumph—one the promises to inform and invigorate listeners regardless of age, gender, or musical preference.
Although you’d be hard pressed to get Hooray for Earth mastermind Noel Heroux to admit it, the band has been releasing music since 2006. According to legend, Heroux didn’t get his mojo working until he moved from his native Boston to NYC to be closer to his girlfriend. That girlfriend, Jessica Zambri, is now his fiancé, and her voice (along with her sister Cristi Jo) is all over this album. Heroux’s home life and career may be on the upswing yet he still sounds like someone who is trying to outrun darkness. True Loves plays the soundtrack to forgotten arcade game from the 1980s where the hero is saddled with the task of shuttling his princess safely through a forest overrun with squawking movie monsters.
Heroux is the sort of artist that A&R people have nightmares about. A self-reliant producer/composer, Heroux has always seemed completely unconcerned with pop conventions, unwilling to compromise or edit his music to fit a certain stylistic mold. Like Momo before it, True Loves touches everything from straight ahead pop to reggae—often over the course of the same song While the ‘80s are an obvious touchstone for this latest batch of songs, Heroux never sounds particularly interested in the decade. It’s as if the airy syths and pulsating beats associated with ‘80s pop are merely a delivery system, not an influence. Unlike Twin Shadow’s similarly brilliant Forget, there should never be any confusion as to when this music was recorded.
“Realize it’s Not the Sun” opens the album with a wash of haunted voices calling from somewhere. When Heroux’s soothing yet commanding voice finally reveals itself, the song unexpectedly shifts from disembodied dirge to full on Afropop. Moments after this too-brief song evaporates into a haze of delicate white noise, the massive “Last Call” rockets to life, effectively raising the curtain on this album with a flourish of cascading, candy-coated keys. Here, Heroux successfully re-creates Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound on his laptop, letting unpredictable symphonies swirl around an arrangement that grows brighter and brighter as it approaches its million watt climax.
And we haven’t even reached the stadium rattling choruses yet. The dark, pulsating “Sails” sounds like the greatest Depeche Mode tribute ever written by someone who has never listened to Depeche Mode. The title track has been making the rounds for quite some time now but its widescreen gallop still delivers a gut punch with each new spin. Opening with drummer Joe Ciampini’s deliciously skittering beat, the track ominously lurches into a gnarly ragga from hell (someone may or may not be playing a defibrillator on this song). It takes a truly skilled producer to turn clattering chaos into radio gold and Heroux, backed by the versatile playing of bassist Chris Principe and second guitarist Gary Benacquista, is more than up to the challenge.
The middle of the album initially seems a bit thin but only because we’ve been absolutely gobsmacked by everything that has come before it. The glistening shuffle “Same” features the album’s best B-section and its second best chorus. At first “Hotel” comes across as demo bumped up to the album to give it at least nine fully realized songs. Upon closer examination, however, “Hotel” reveals itself to be one of the album’s most complex compositions. These tracks offer a much needed respite before the bold and brassy “No Love” crashes the party. Heroux has fearlessly dabbled in disparate genres before and with “No Love”, he’s created what can best be described as mamiximalist indie hip-hop. Over exultant keys, fake horns, and a rumbling guitar lick lifted from “Eye of the Tiger”, Heroux and Zambri throw down a swaggering call and response like they’re the Jay-Z and Beyonce of indie rock. This track’s head bobbing break down should easily kickstart Heroux’s side gig an in demand beat maker. The following track, the glistening, rhapsodic “Bring Us Closer Together”, serves as a well-deserved victory lap.
Throughout the album, Heroux treats lyrics as a necessary evil. Vocals are often buried in the mix. Words are used to present ideas, not tell stories. From “This violation somehow doesn’t matter too much” to “This time no love is what I need”, Heroux presents fragments of ideas through repeated mantras, preferring to put his larger message across through sounds. On the downright tribal “Black Trees”, Heroux seeks some sort of closure. While a hypnotic wave of angelic harmonies carry us out, Heroux pleads “Say that you’re on my side” in a yearning falsetto. This time Zambri is a voice in the darkness, reassuring him that “It’s the sun”. Whatever obstacles they’ve faced on this journey, they’ve found a home in the light at long last.
With its infectious energy and gargantuan hooks, there’s little doubt True Loves is going to turn more than a few heads. While it’s hard to say how all of this well-deserved attention will affect the band’s music, we can rest assured that Heroux will continue to follow his muse and those who follow him will be handsomely rewarded.