Detrola is recorded proof that living well or at least just living through it is the best revenge. Detrola is the first full-length from His Name is Alive since parting ways (what a nice euphemism) with longtime label 4AD. And it's a knockout. HNIA brainman Warn Defever has crafted a record of squiggly, sinewy indie-funk that's as cohesive and accessible as anything the group's recorded over its decade-and-a-half existence. Coursing through the album's tight 11 jams spread over 38 minutes are nervous, raw, nearly broke-down guitar lines, minimal in-pocket beats and a tag-team engine of sax 'n' synths.
Multi-instrumentalist (and leader of world-beat orchestra NOMO) Elliot Bergman lends a hand on many tracks. Detroit out-jazz mainstay Faruq Z. Bey and punk iconoclast Jamie Easter make appearances. And vocalists Lovetta Pippen, Andrea FM and Erika Hoffmann give voice to Defever's ruminations on the dreamlike nightscape of hopeful, hopeless and lost romance. But this is Defever's record. And if His Name is Alive songs have suffered lyrically in the past for airy abstraction, here they're grounded in a reality of bed sweats, careful observation and economy.
In fact, the ace sleight-of-hand played by Defever and company on Detrola is that what sizzles on the surface musically often slides into the subconscious. Hell, the record starts with an Eastern-inflected drone and the lyric "The darkest night/I ever saw/Was the night I left my love." Then it sets off down the motorway at cruising speed with that mantra lingering, suggested and refracted through Defever's deceptively simple tone and text poetry. Detrola is soul music for wounded spirits.
Chris Handyside writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail [email protected].