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His Name Is Alive - Detrola

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Artist: His Name Is Alive

Album: Detrola

Label: Silver Mountain

Review date: Feb. 9, 2006

Warren Defever’s makeshift group His Name is Alive is plural by design. Defever is obsessed with the arcana of music making. He is an ideas collector, populating his productivity with pseudonyms, rag-tag side projects, limited CD-Rs and box sets on his Time Stereo label, and an ever-changing cast of players. His Name is Alive’s last two widely released albums, Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth and Last Night, toyed with the building blocks of R&B, soul, jazz and Afrobeat, essaying Defever’s most confident songs at the expense of his fey and conservative 4AD label fan base. However, in the broader sweep of Defever’s music, it made perfect sense, as this Playdoh fooling with genres affords Defever the space to explore varied aspects of his personality and art.

At first blush, Detrola sounds like a step back to his more precious 4AD releases, thanks to the distant, near-blasé vocals of Erika Hoffmann and Andrea, who replace Lovetta Pippen’s soul vamps. (Pippen herself only turns up in passing, dropping in on two songs.) But there’s always something sweating away in the details of Defever’s songs, like the squirrelly electronics that sputter through “Maybe Again When I Leave U”, the downcast folk of “I’ll Send My Face to Your Funeral”, or the mid-80s Prince snare-claps and hole-punched silences that puncture “Seven Minutes in Heaven”. Defever can still write great, melancholic pop songs; as with his R&B album, he manages to take uplifting music and turn it inside out with bittersweet lyrics, as on the album highlight “Mama Don’t You Think I Know”.

Most all the songs on Detrola move through various phases; mbira introductions preface campy rock vamps, or strumming guitars dissolve into luxuriant harmonium drones. Defever never finds the definitive recording, pasting different versions together to offer a colour book of painting possibilities. (This even extends to song titles: most songs on Detrola have three different names.) His music is stitched together, with the seams just peeking out from behind plush cuts of fabric, but therein lies its fascination and joy, each His Name is Alive album a portal to Defever’s inquisitive mind and pop-cultural fascinations.

By Jon Dale

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