It’s pretty much common knowledge that Hosannas were formerly called Church until an attorney for the band The Church in Australia cordially invited them to knock it off or get their asses sued. And so there was a brief interlude where the Portland aggregation inexplicably decided to call themselves Ape Cave, presumably in commemoration of the lava tube of the same name, situated precariously (given the mountain’s propensity for restructuring itself) on the side of Mt. St. Helens.
Apparently unhappy with the dubious move from the ecclesiastical to the geological, the band decided on a sort of ululative exclamatory ecclesiastical theme with Hosannas. One hopes, for all involved, that there is not some band in Spain that has been The Hosannas since 1967.
The prime movers of Hosannas, or whatever they purportedly call themselves, are the brothers Laws- Brandon who plays guitar and keys and sings, and Richard- who is the family percussionist, also playing keys and singing. Christof Hendrickson contributes very cool Moog stylings in many places, possibly in the capacity of providing bass lines- although that is not altogether sonically clear. Lane Barrington is the drummer.
The band released an album last May, “Then & Now & Then” that was mostly a collection of earlier efforts on a home, analog four-track tape deck, if you can imagine that! They also released “Song Force Crystal” in ‘09. But this new project would have to be considered the band’s first, real, studio presentation- produced by John Askew (Mount Analogue, Karl Blau) and recorded at Type Foundry and Scenic Burrows.
Hosanna’s music is rooted in alternative pop, with a nod to the masters of the genre, and by other more mainstream purveyors of contemporary music. They are a Pop band with one wheel seriously out of alignment. There are elements of “Smile” era Beach Boys, and a faint, ineffable intimation of Coldplay- a soupcon of Pink Floyd stirred into the musical broth, here and there.
They remind of the Shins, with the interference of several other radio stations bleeding through their performances. And just when the musical landscape seems to be taking shape, up bubbles some “Tom Sawyer” period Rush bass and synth- to alter the sonic terrain yet again.
The Beach Boys, “Smile” connection becomes readily apparent from the start of “Hoping That You Will.” Percolating high harmonies and liturgical organ anchor the intro before the song drifts into some sort of epic spaghetti western sequence, eventually evolving toward status as a heartfelt ballad. This is probably the least accessible song on the album, so why it leads off the record is a mystery to me.
Eerie, slippery synth-bass slides beneath soft, subdued syncopated drums on “Be Careful.” More ghostly guitar ethereally hovers like smoke above the reverberating musical milieu. Distorted, processed vocals add to a sense of stifling suffocation and trepidation. May be vaguely related to Radiohead circa “The Bends.”
Barrington contributes frenetic Phil Collins-ish jungle rhythms to “When We Were Young,” before settling in to a straight-ahead groove; synth-bass and strings complimenting, during a nice guitar solo by Brandon Laws. Here the arrangement and instrumentation threaten to suck the fragile context of the song beneath the surface altogether.
Something of a relief is the arid sparseness of “An Old Forgotten Tune,” perhaps one of the more direct songs of the bunch. And “John Pilgrim” with it’s interwoven background vocals, preserve the dreamier aspects the band maintains- with guest Alexi Erenkov’s forlorn clarinet sounding like a distant horn moaning in some foggy harbor.
“Multi-Chamber American Future” seems to be suffering from some sort of arrhythmia, the beat seeming to skitter away from the song. Hendrickson’s synth-bass groans and the roiling Moog lines prompt that Rush allusion. Familiarly, the wraithish yellow fog seeps down the alleys of the vocals and instrumentation, licking it’s tongue into the corners of the arrangement. The short, elegiac, guitar-infused fugue, “Tone Pony Crone Jonesing” induces strata of sounds to coalesce into a thick musical parfait.
Yawning Moog accents a tinkling piano, which pin together the brittle intro to “Open Your Doors.” It’s a simple enough song, and pretty, once one traverses the impediments and detritus left in the path toward its conclusion. Keyboard cello melded with trumpet and euphonium, contributed by Cory Gray, create a thick aural nest, to which the frail little song is tethered.
“Hello Moon” seems to want to hang out on Radiohead turf, with Hendrickson’s buttery Fender Rhodes keyboard fluttering atop Barrington’s Phil Selway-inspired, syncopatious showings forth. But, typically, Thom Yorke’s compositions invite such additions- require them, in most cases. Here they simply sound extraneous. It’s sort of a Beatles-esque number (“I Want You/She‘s So Heavy” ), but with Ringo on amphetamines. By this song’s conclusion you will hope you never hear another crash cymbal again in your life.
Playing against an arpeggiated synth figure, simple organ and langorous synth-bass, “The People I Know” unfolds gently, with only repetitive, annoying pink noise to interfere with the apprehension of the vocals. Drums and more dynamic Moog bass jump in at the half way point, opposed by an increase in noise in the midrange: noise which eats up an awful lot of dynamic range, perhaps better suited to the more musically distinguishable aspects of the presentation. This noise resolves into dusty jangly Native American sounding percussion, which may or may not be responsible for all the racket throughout the song- but it really doesn’t matter.
Hosannas offer a conundrum. Brandon and Richard Laws’ songs are delicate constructions, sometimes no more palpable than smoke. And often the arrangements here seem out of sync: gears that do not mesh, but indifferently spin, completely apart from one another. This is particularly true of Barrington- who is a great drummer- but he often plays as if he is trying to drive a song somewhere where it really, really does not want to go. Hendrickson is less obtrusive- yet his contributions still often seem incongruous or superfluous.
It has been rumored that Barrington and Hendrickson may have left the band. And that might not necessarily be a tragic event in the careers of either faction. Brandon and Richard could benefit from working with a drummer a little more straight-ahead and to the point and, perhaps, a player of an actual bass guitar. Barrington would fit in well with any aggregation whose music is as complex as his drumming wants to be. And as for Hendrickson, his services will be well-placed in an organization more aimed at an electronic sound.
Meanwhile, Hosannas are a band with songs and arrangements awaiting a rhythm section. Such a requisite is not easily fulfilled, but bands make that same adjustment all the time. It will be interesting to see how this band of brothers evolves- and what their name will be when that evolution is complete.
© 2011 Buko Magazine