I’m quite unsure why Vancouver’s Said the Whale named their upcoming album hawaiii (with an intentionally lowercase h and an extra i), but it hardly matters. The 2011 JUNO award winners recorded it in short periods of time over six months, playing songs to live audiences before taking them into the studio to finalize them. “The time in between sessions allowed us to reflect on what we’d recorded, to tour and road-test some of the songs, and to continue writing,” said Tyler Bancroft, singer and lyricist. That production method seems to have worked; hawaiii is set to be released on September 17, 2013. This effort, like their previous LPs, is an eclectic, almost genre-bending mix of sounds that begs you to pay attention, lest you miss something, but never strays far enough from the band’s indie pop/rock roots to alienate you.
Let’s start with the album’s arc, shall we? It’s bookended by two of the record’s slowest songs, the first about non-romantic longing, a tangible desire for something more, and the last about winter’s horrible ability to make us all so very, very sad. These are strong, likable songs for sure, but if you listen to the record straight through, they feel like a fore-and-after thought. The album gears up after More Than This (the aforementioned first track) moving into its apex and reintroducing traditional Said the Whale sounds: consistently catchy lyrics, a penchant for harmonies that tune you in immediately, and the always-present hint at good old fashioned rock’n’roll. You want to keep listening from song to song because they’re just genuinely good. So when a slide guitar appeared for the first and only time on Weight of the Season, it caught my attention, yet contrasted a bit too sharply with the indie-pop goodness of the rest of hawaiii.
This distinction is evident in the Spoon-like bass and vocals on the album’s first single, I Love You, which give way to a catchy and surely quotable chorus. Said the Whale’s target audience (me and most of my indie rock audiophile friends) will be throwing around lyrics and tapping our toes to it for the rest of the summer. And the pitch-perfect harmonies on Oh K, Okay, are sweet and simple and just plain smile-inducing. They’re reminiscent of teenage love. The kind that distracts you in math class, forces you to doodle hearts, and potentially produces a poorly written sonnet or two. These are the album’s strongest tunes. Resolution, it should be noted, also feels different from the rest of the album, despite its place squarely in the middle. It’s grittier and a little bit more retro, ending with a verse or two of rap before fading out.
Said the Whale is currently touring with Kopecky Family Band (whom I’ve seen twice— damn good live show), but will soon grace Pittsburgh with their presence at the South Side’s Smiling Moose. I don’t dance (sad, but true), but fully intend to stop in, bob my head, and grin for a few hours. If this record mirrors their live sound at all, I have to recommend that everyone else does, too.