It seems a little reductive to say that Blue Hawaii is the latest in a current line of standout electro-pop bands from Montreal, but it’s not like all these bands are unrelated. Blue Hawaii is embarking on a tour with Doldrums, who released their fine album Lesser Evil last week, and Majical Cloudz, who has a record to come later this year, worked on Grimes’s excellent Visions in 2012. You don’t have to call it a scene, but it is tempting.
Untogether is something of a crossroads record. The title alone suggests the idea of something not quite fitting, or a conflict between two sets of ideas that may or may not merge. As a result, it makes sense that there is occasionally an undeveloped feel to the album, even while its high points are clearly impressive. The duo of vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston and Alex Cowan have crafted an album of occasional beauty, but one that never quite develops enough of its own personality to fully work.
The ethereal, uneasy opening of “Follow” is a textbook example. Once the track gets going, it becomes warm and unusual, with Standell-Preston’s impressionistic vocals layered over the top, but by the time the song finds its footing, it is already drifting past the five-minute mark.
Following that with “Try To Be” only highlights those difficulties, as the album’s second track really is something special. Built around a guitar loop and a much more direct vocal, with a simple chorus line of “May as well just be me,” it’s a gorgeous and seductive mix that shows what the band is capable of when they ally their sound with a more concrete emotion.
The other great example is “Califurnya,” with the tension in the chopped-up vocals and the stuttering tight snare rhythms backed up by the plea of “Someone lift me out of here / I just want to go to sleep.” It is a step away from the record’s lush comfort zone that is genuinely rewarding and makes you wish they would take a chance more often.
The two parts of “In Two” combine to create a mini-epic of low-key trance music, one for the end of the party rather than the middle of it. Its reflection of early hours loneliness gives the song a different dimension than much of Untogether.
At no time is the album anything less than pleasurable, but after hearing Purity Ring take this kind of thing to such heights last year, Untogether does tend to feel a bit weightless in comparison. Closing track “The Other Day” is a lovely little melody with nothing to anchor it. “Sweet Tooth” and “Daisy” become much more interesting in their climaxes, but suffer from that same tentative approach.
“Yours To Keep” is probably the best summary of this weakness. It is pretty enough, but in the end, its lasting impact is evasive, and the song feels something like a teflon-coated jewel, always slipping through your fingers and never giving you enough time to appreciate it.
With so much good music coming out of Montreal, there is a danger that Blue Hawaii might slip by unnoticed, which would be a shame. They do not do an awful lot wrong, but one does wish they had the confidence to pursue some of these avenues a little further, especially since the times when they do are so successful.
As it is, Untogether has its standout moments, and Standell-Preston has a voice that can be unnervingly effective when harnessed properly, but the band needs to grow a little more in confidence and take a couple more risks to stand out from the crowd.
Tickets are still available for Blue Hawaii’s upcoming LA show with Doldrums at The Bootleg Bar on March 22.
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