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His Name Is Alive - Last Night

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Artist: His Name Is Alive

Album: Last Night

Label: 4AD

Review date: Dec. 11, 2002

Long Live Livonia

His Name Is Alive is one of the most remarkable creations of the pop underground. It stands around the mind of Warn Defever, and was born when he was still in high school. It takes place, of course, around that greatest of musical cities, Detroit. The conflicts of that metropolis inspire street tunes, club magic and suburban soliloquies. Defever's is the latter.

Unearthed from the ground of Livonia, MI, HNIA is a project that wouldn't be nearly as renowned without the construct of the music business. For all its ills, that construct gets music like this attention and room to grow and experiment. If, in the wake of digital freedom, we count on the artist to tour and shill themselves, it's acts like Warn's we are bound to lose. His talent is in the execution and process of pop, not in the performance or promotion.

For 12 years, he's paired off with other creatives and has always satisfied. In the changes of vocalists and collaborators, the group evolves. As it follows, there's always judgment and speculation. The consistence of quality lies in Defever's passion for radio magic.

Last year's Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth is a perfect example. Teaming with Detroit native Lovetta Pippen [HNIA almost always uses local talent] they made something that took many by surprise, but remains devoid of used bins and inside disc changers. And it will stand the test of time. Like great movie directors or playwrights, Defever is making a legacy more than anything . In fact, Defever is so driven to produce music that his mail-order Time Stereo label should also be considered by fans, rife with home recordings, intimate sound art and Asian-Pacific field recordings.

All that leads us to Last Night, his newest for 4AD, a label that has staunchly supported this legacy for over a decade. Again we have Defever and Pippen. Again we have melodic, tilted pop. Pippen's voice is so awesome, broken and supple and her fluidity alone makes this a record worth trumpeting. The experience expressed in her delivery makes Alicia Keys sound like Heather Chandler.

It isn't as succint, and heart-wrenching, as Someday… and it may not have the slicing modernity of HNIA's earlier works, but the idea of the project propels it still. The soft tones of "Last Night", its coda and rendering of "Crawlin'," the Hendrix-penned "Storm," the eloquence of "Devil's Night" and the Youngian styles of "I Have Special Powers" are totally solid.

HNIA will be the kind of legend that spurns a collector with limited runs, independent import labels and impeccable execution. But in a perfect world, Defever would have the stature of a Phil Spector, while Pippen would inspire like Etta James. While we are in this one, however, we'll just have to imagine. And somehow, it seems HNIA is perfectly happy with that.

By David Day

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