<sup>review:</sup> <em>The awkward hello…</em>, by Hiva Oa
There is an undercurrent of excitement among musicians. None of them are earning a living yet, but perhaps that is one of the reasons. The liberating effect of dividing money from creativity.
No one wants to give MP3 files away as gifts anymore. iTunes gift cards are even worse: Here, go spend some of my money for me. Merry Christmas. Listeners want to buy and receive vinyl and cassettes, along with physical packaging. They prefer the sound of physical media. Compact disc? Sure. By all means the artists can keep their toys: the DAWs, the virtual instruments, the software. But FTP is for their day jobs. For sending and receiving music, they want the distributors to lick a stamp. Oh, and the traditional gatekeepers are patting down their pockets looking for the keys, just as the rest of us are.
This has had an impact on the music being written, not just the way music is packaged and consumed. And speaking of the merging of the electronic and the acoustic, the debut Hiva Oa EP Future Nostalgia for sale had no right to be as good as it was. Mastered by friend-of-site Matthew Collings and released by groovy troublemakers Mini 50 Records, Hiva Oa’s debut EP was even better than all that name-dropping portended. Opening track “Badger” spun us into an oscillating cocoon, with wave profiles both natural and box-drawn. “Urban” was a bit more representative of the band’s whisper-and-strum ethic, but the inexact rattling of metal noisemaker was a brilliant, unexpected, and, yes, nostalgic touch. These two songs — alongside eight previously unreleased ones — form The awkward hello, handshake, kiss, Hiva Oa’s now long-awaited debut album.
For those readers already familiar with Hiva Oa, know that the ante has been raised, the air is thinning. The core remains unchanged: guitar, bass, and cello. Indeed, the two-cello arrangement “Seadog” is one of the finest three minutes of music this year. Not gripping as much as it is groping, the track claws through the downy, AM radio coat with crushing string dialogue and precise dissonance. The only fully instrumental piece, “Seadog” proves that Hiva Oa can hold their own with the tuxedos on any court. And The awkward hello… warms discernibly as it progresses, the latter half of the album brews into a true dopamine bath. “Badger” is wisely placed at the front end of this denouement, followed by the floating and minimal “Thunder,” which features the delicate, big-sky vocals of Hailey Beavis (Beavis
appears on several tracks, and her accompaniment to Stephen’s vocals is pure highlands). “Seadog” and the beseeching “Call of the wind” conclude the album, with the latter track’s stark refrain: “So let it burn, let it burn.” If you don’t like the sensation of your hair standing on end, you might wax your arms before you listen.
Of the album’s first half, stand-outs are “These Hands” and “Urban.” “These hands” is an early crescendo of elemental voice, stirring cello, and fault lines of chiming guitar. During their live performances, this will be the one that goes on for ten unscheduled minutes, and with a broken guitar string. “Urban” needs little introduction, having haunted listeners since March with its half-playful, half-mournful pedigree. The boyish heartache here is positively wrecking, and it doesn’t help much that the percussion lines are assembled from those toy box instruments.
It is much more difficult than it seems, complementing tannin-heavy acoustics with the voltaic crackle of electronics (for those listeners impressed with how “Badger” synthesized the two, turn now to
“Mindful Of”). On scales both microscopic and wide-view, The awkward hello, handshake, kiss is a careful composition, a moving, retrained work of art, and a triumph. Available now for purchase at the Bandcamp page, in digital and CD format.