Hosannas Song Force Crystal

[Tender Loving Empire; 2009]

Styles: space jam, experimental guitar
Others: Slint, Jim O’Rourke, Pram

In natural terms, Hosannas’ strong debut album, Song Force Crystal, is the predator waiting in the dark. There, patient and threatening, it schemes for analog survival in a digital world. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Hosannas is composed of brothers Brandon and Richard Laws (guitars, vocals) as well as Christof Hendrickson (keys, electronics) and Lane Barrington (percussion). Like many current musicians from the Pacific Northwest, Hosannas describe tension within sound — both natural and manufactured, aged and contemporary — readily distinguishable in each of its eight tracks. Here, that tension reveals a core, unresolved conflict that pits twinkling, crystalline imagery (sun) against fear and obscurity (shadows).

Indicative of a young band, many of the sounds on Song Force Crystal are arranged in stunning, haunting, and sometimes confusing ways. “Opposite People,” the album’s standout track, roots itself in these former notions with electronics that quietly erupt beneath treble-rattling guitar notes. The Laws brothers’ vocals loom therein: “Come with me outside,” they obscenely invite. Amid the album’s like-minded penultimate track, the spook-jam “Crab Magic,” they recant, “I won’t leave you outside,” hinting in parallel with the music at a desolate and deceptively ominous world. Similarly, “Aquamarine,” an acid-drenched mini-epic, masterfully plays abrasive electronics against a slow-churning guitar riff, while the instrumental “Quilty’s Guilty” offers an engrossing intermission from these dynamics with woodwinds and piano replacing the guitars and synthesizers.

Despite these slow-burning, lush heights, the album begins unsteadily with “Graveyard.” Here, the track’s opening din of tumbling noise, while itself intriguing, adds nothing from a compositional standpoint to foster the gentle melody that emerges from it. Although not terribly distracting, it highlights an occasional incongruence within these tracks, as if Hosannas are not always exactly sure what to do with all of the sounds at their disposal. Interestingly, Song Force Crystal ends on a similar note which finds “Golden Girls,” an otherwise expertly crafted blues-dirge, skating away in a muddled coda.

What makes Song Force Crystal a success, however, is its production. Recorded in analog, the track mixes yank apart the disparate instrumentation so that the throbbing, lurching, simple guitar lines are brought to the fore, while the humming Moogs and synthesizers are left to rattle in the background. The approach presents these well-established digital-age dynamics in an analog context, giving the album a well-worn, dissonant feel that plays well with the unpredictability and haunt of the music within. The sole casualty of this production motif is the vocals, which hint at harmony but come off as distant and dainty.

As Song Force Crystal arcs from its gleaming, tension-laden opening tracks toward its shadowy and threatening conclusion, there becomes evident a patience and maturity uncharacteristic for a debut album. Like Slint or, more recently, Pram, these tracks take on a serpentine, experimental quality while at the same time harkening toward the familiar. While flawed enough to keep it from being an instant classic, it’s albums like these — ones that blur the lines between what has been done and what’s possible — that show the greatest potential for sonic and conceptual growth.

Links: Hosannas - Tender Loving Empire

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