Home Acres, the latest offering from perennial experimental rock mainstays Aloha, opens with an invigorating one-two punch. “Building a Fire,” like its title suggests, is designed to suggest a quickly escalating tension, constructed upon a forceful bass line and increasingly frantic drums. Only the gently chiming guitars and singer Tony Cavallario’s patient vocals keep the song from descending into utter chaos. One seamless drum fill later, and Aloha have transferred the apocalyptic anxiety of “Building a Fire” into the sunnier, yet equally kinetic, “Moonless March.” The bass is briefly reduced to providing intermittent, rhythmic pulses to allow more sonic room for guitars and vibes to hypnotically spiral around each other. Eventually, it all gives way to an outro that shows Aloha to be one of the outdated, rarefied acts who can actually pull off such a barely harnessed frenzy. It’s the sort of unstylish, fiery guitar rock that rarely receives radio play (whatever that’s worth anymore).
The remainder of Home Acres practically wheezes in comparison to the first two songs, which is less of an insult than it sounds like. It would difficult, both on the band and the listener, to attempt to sustain that pace for the length of an album. Fortunately, Aloha are malleable enough to work in different gears without sacrificing coherence. The vibraphone that is occasionally and unfortunately used to define Aloha is particularly helpful in grounding the band’s atypical tempos and arrangements. “Microviolence”, though a considerable downshift in energy following “Moonless March,” intriguingly twitches and stutters along through its herky-jerky rhythms. Immediately after “Microviolence”, “Searchlight” successfully channels the more enjoyable side of mid-’90s alternative pop. Even the more pensive “Everything Goes My Way” keeps Home Acres’ rollicking along without losing any momentum.
Once Aloha reach “White Wind,” Home Acres starts to lose steam. “White Wind” is pleasant enough, but the band, which previously seemed absolutely determined to wring the most melody and passion out of each prior track, suddenly seems listless, content to either copy Cavallario’s vocal melody or strum lifelessly. “Cold Storage” returns the album to a more propulsive state, but again, Aloha’s previously unignorable fervor has been significantly drained. There’s enough to recommend “Blackout,” namely a fuzzy, spry guitar solo that appears midway through the song, but it’s not the album-rejuvenating bounce-back that Home Acres needs.
Perhaps it’s because the listener is settled into the more low-key side of Aloha at this point, but “Waterwheel” and “I’m In Trouble” are winningly modest, late-album highlights. The former is bolstered by some surprisingly spacey (surprising for this album anyway) guitars, the latter by some nimble, animated synthesizers. Album-closer “Ruins” has a terrific build-up, if a somewhat disappointing climax, making it a passable end to an album that is rarely less than enjoyable. It’s a shame that the band was unable to recreate Home Acres’ initial highs on a consistent basis, but even the album’s lower points testify to the fact that Aloha and their singular brand of avant-pop deserve greater recognition.