Music

Horns of Happiness: A Sea As a Shore

Kevin Jagernauth

Horns of Happiness

A Sea as a Shore

Label: Secretly Canadian
US Release Date: 2004-07-20
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

It seems that Aaron Deer has got songs to spare. Already a member of indie rockers the Impossible Shapes and gospel blues revivalists John Wilkes Booze, Deer has still had time to sit down and put his more music to tape, releasing it under the moniker Horns Of Happiness. A Sea As a Shore, Deer's second full length, is a fifteen-track opus that owes a great deal to Neutral Milk Hotel and occupies the same indie space-folk territory as the Microphones.

It doesn't take long after putting this disc in your CD player to discover that A Sea As a Shore is a decidedly more lo-fi effort, eschewing the slick production that rounded out the Impossible Shapes' last album, We Like It Wild. Where the precision recording of We Like It Wild rendered the music forgettable, Deer's own low-key work behind the boards brings a much needed urgency to his songs, ultimately commanding the listener's attention.

The opening organ swell, shambling percussion, and the close mic-ed, dry vocal treatment of "Joyous Laughing Awake" immediately conjure visions of Jeff Mangum's finest moments. However, the song takes an abrupt mid-song turn, slowing into a heavy synth driven groove to close out the tune. Deer seems to tire of his own melodies and often shifts gears mid-song. "Asleep in the Already Known" is another surging Mangum-esque pop number that is barely a minute old before the song peters out into some acoustic guitar mucking that slowly builds into an extended guitar freakout. "The Return" is an otherwise fine song that unfortunately and inexplicably spends its last twenty odd seconds in a faux free-jazz jam. The final track, "Watch Me Laugh Again" seeks to tie the up the album sonically, throwing out the melody of the rest of the song and ending with an identical organ swell that graced "Joyous Laughing Awake". These sort of contrived moments undercut many of these songs, perhaps betraying Deer's lack of confidence in his own abilities to sustain a simple pop tune.

Some of the best moments on A Sea As a Shore are found when Deer leaves his songs well enough alone. "Wonders" is a wonderful, minute-and-a-half, piano-driven song. It's a concise pop statement that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the album. "Of Whistling & Wine" also excels because of its simplicity. An acoustic guitar, a tambourine, a pump organ (?), and Deer's earnest voice hold court and the results are mesmerizing. And the straight-ahead, mournful indie rock of "Autumn Breathes East" left me wanting to hear another minute of the reverberated, slinky guitar work.

Despite these highlights, much of A Sea As a Shore is bogged down in calculated spontaneity, and too many aimless instrumental interludes. Deer's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach buries his otherwise catchy pop hooks under a blanket of instrumentation and a bewildering need to change directions on a moment's notice. Deer is a gifted songwriter, but needs to be secure in simplicity and power in his songwriting, and strip away the excesses. There is a gorgeous, folky pop gem hiding here; unfortunately, it can't be seen under Deer's weighty arrangements.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image