December 12, 2012 - 2:39pm
BY RAY MALO
Hawaii: Part II, a mysterious record by a Japanese-named collective that translates to “Miracle Musical,” became available on the artist’s Bandcamp on Dec. 12. Opening track “Introduction to the Snow” begins with a solitary piano, soon joined by a lovely French Horn line and rich strings, and the album immediately seems to present itself as an homage to the process of recording itself: pitch perfect whistling, tape hiss and sepia-tinted vocals. It’s a timeless tune, and the musical nostalgist in me would feel just fine if the rest of the album followed suit.
But this is not the intention, as the synthy transition into the upbeat “Isle Unto Thyself” promptly declares, and that’s OK with me too. The record is the brainchild of Tally Hall’s Joe Hawley, essentially a mixtape written and recorded by him and his talented friends.
Tally Hall was formed at the University in 2002, and have subsequently released two fantastic, ambitious albums of their signature brand of power pop (Full disclosure: Drummer Ross Federman, University student and Hawaii: Part II’s producer, is a close friend.). And while the cinematic Hawaii: Part II is perhaps more experimental than either of these records, it’s sure to please both Tally Hall fans and newcomers to no end.
Though the artist’s name by default, Miracle Musical is not a band. It’s more a gathering of ideas by some phenomenal musicians, and it’s filled with deft production and solid contributions, from Federman’s precise drumming to rapper Shane Maux’s quick-witted lyrics to multi-instrumentalist (and University alumnus) Bora Karaca’s, uh, multi-instrumenting. The record refuses to settle on any given sound for too long, morphing along the way from the lush musical theater of “White Ball” to the robotic krautrock of “Time Machine.” This bold refusal to just stick to a genre is itself the overarching theme of the record.
Album highlights include the head bobbing, Hawaiian colors-inspired “Black Rainbows,” with its ominous, deepened background vocals supporting a lovely lead take from Madi Diaz, and “Labyrinth,” a rap fugue filtered through video game synths featuring an infectious hook sung by rising songwriter Charlene Kaye (another University alumna).
Hawaii: Part II is insanely ambitious, genre hopping like only a record from a collection of artists this talented can do with any success. The first time I listened to Tally Hall, the artist I kept returning to as primary influence was criminally underappreciated ’90s power pop band Jellyfish. With Hawaii: Part II, the boys do some more exploring: I hear the influence of a massive array of timeless artists, from Cole Porter to Daft Punk to Gorillaz. The result is an wonderfully complex dreamscape, and a showcase of tremendous musical possibility.