Listening to Detrola, it’s hard to imagine that His Name is Alive’s discography stretches back to a pre-Nevermind pop-music world; that the band has sold more than 100,000 records with U.K. label 4AD; or that band founder and Detroit-area luminary Warn Defever has recorded the likes of Low, Yoko Ono, and Iggy and the Stooges. Detrola‘s cross-genre miscegenation, a fitting distillation of a career rummaging through pop’s nooks and crannies, highlights a disappointingly amateurish performance. Defever and recently acquired lead vocalist Andy FM sound like they’re fresh off the boat rather than fresh off a fiftten-year anniversary.
Defever and his colleagues are clearly scholars as much as they are musicians. With an electro-pop undercurrent running through blues, folk, funk, 1970s-era singer/songwriters, and noise rock, Detrola is remarkable for its variety. Such ambition may be impressive across the length of a career, and His Name Is Alive’s healthy critical archive is the proof, but all the accolades in the world won’t save Detrola from its fatal flaws. Focused within a single recording, Defever’s genre-hopping is more of a thinning agent than a musical catalyst, and Andy FM’s Nico-cum-Broadcast vocals are not up to the challenge.
On its own, the second-hand soul of “I Thought I Saw” might be worth a friendly giggle, but following the goofy electro-pop of “After I Leave U,” it just sounds silly. “In My Dreams,” the dizzyingly lame follow-up, continues the confusion with its punchy, pep-rally horns and sparkling cymbals. Even when the band gets it right, as on the lilting “Your Bones,” Andy FM sounds like she’s head-down and reading in front of her English class. Her distant and darkly massacred vocals are clearly mismatched to Defever’s good times. When she should be hopping, she’s pacing; when she should be smiling, she’s sulking.
Still, the real culprit here isn’t a personality conflict, it’s a personality disorder. His Name Is Alive needs to quit covering its record collections and start covering its bases. On “Send My Face,” the album’s closer and best tune, a lonely synth and violin converse quietly while Andy FM urges you to “drive around until you get so lost.” His Name Is Alive would do well with a little more musical self-exploration and a little less play-acting.
His Name Is Alive Web site