Aside from far too-short moments of math rock and its latter half, I have some trouble appreciating His Name Is Alive’s latest, The Eclipse. Before crucifying myself as a writer with some pure indie-cred, let me state that I’m a fan of 4AD’s greater catalog, I liked 1996’s Stars on ESP, and there are a few moments on The Eclipse that lull me into high-harmony heaven.
The Eclipse begins with a tease, giving us “Jixi”, a brief and twisty guitar sequence resembling a mellowed-out Shellac sample that’s great and only 17 seconds long. The passage returns four tracks ahead, in “Bleeder Poem”, and extends into a two-minute acoustic jam that falls slowly beneath Andy FM’s lush vocal padding. But following “Jixi” is “The Prescriptions”, a vocal-padded piano-pop jam that rocks like a slow Beatles half-song, before fading into the love song territory that is “Vanilla”, which begins the album’s actual selection of useful content. I know that’s a cut — I’m disregarding the weak atmosphere Eclipse’s first two minutes and some seconds establish. This is a typical HNIA moment, and it’s placed and beautiful, but I can’t help but wonder if it might find a home more fitting on a soundtrack to one of the Twilight movies. Why move us through three distinct styles, two of them absent of purpose, before continuing what I almost thought to be a Bella Swan mixtape.
No matter. “Dream Rememberer” continues the listlessness with a wah-wah pedal. “Love you more than anything / Love you more today”, FM sings over noise rock squelch. There’s an intentional duality between the twee angelic voice, the guitar work, and relatively interesting drum work. Naturally of a goth-y label, the album delivers us a sliver of dialogue from the film The Crow echoed in FM’s lyrics: “It can’t rain all the time / It can’t rain”. It can’t, because I quite like the minimalist “St Michael”, which brings dirge-like movement to The Eclipse, humming under FM’s vocal silk, resulting in a track that persists captivatingly on only its harmony and what could be two drum notes from Radiohead’s Idioteque.
“There’s a light in the distance / Then it starts to fade,” she sings in “Darker Than Blue”. It’s a bad title; we know that. The track itself continues the good work of “St Michael”, this time adding acoustic and electric guitars while managing to avoid the noise-laden contrast-song that it obviously could be — Warren Defever’s bleating amp emerges and closes the song splendidly. “Tell Me Why You Want to See Me” continues the bad song title precedent, rolling briefly with room-mic’d piano and more of FM’s layered vocal clusters. This is where my problem with The Eclipse is realized. I’m not sure what the album is telling me or any of its listeners. There is no story; or if there is a story, it isn’t well written. It plays like a collection of out-takes, some of them quite beautiful but nonetheless without cohesion.
“Feels Like Infinity” is great, being probably what should be this album’s single, though it isn’t — “Dream Rememberer” is. “Infinity” is quiet and full, tight and colorful with acoustic exercises, sounding like the scored end of a prissy but smart Ivy League girl’s four-year, in-the-car-and-on-the-way-home graduation theme. I love it.
“Dream Tiger” gives us airy lovesick drone, leading into the staccato intro of the album’s eponymous song. And it’s here that we have ambience via noise. It’s here at the end that we have the start of an album. Over seven minutes of post-rock climaxing caves into blurred reverb that filters downward, losing its high-frequency sheen and falling into a wave of echo before breaking and hitting a point of near-silence. “The Eclipse” is very unlike The Eclipse. His Name Is Alive know how to write songs well, and I’m no fit critic of their compositions. I’d have to call Brian Wilson for that. But I can consider their inclusions here, and the choice to have this album arranged as it is. There are many other albums in the HNIA catalogue. Check them out first, then proceed.