The latest album from Minneapolis-based Halloween, Alaska is a lean and instantly engaging testament to the group’s evolution from a studio-born purveyor of lush ambient pop to a full-bodied rock band with equal tastes for winsome melody, warm atmospheric flourish, heady lyricism and freewheeling sonic detours.
In a deliberate departure from the slower, more methodical process behind previous albums, the bulk of All Night the Calls Came In was recorded live in a single room during a single week with all four members playing together — its toasty synths and spare electronic drum pads all struck with human hands, never programmed. Recording took place at The Terrarium in Minneapolis in late 2010, engineered and mixed by scene veteran Jason Orris. While its core moods and melodicism will ring familiar to fans of the band’s previous albums, this new one also documents the groupʼs most direct and stripped-down work to date.
Opening track “You Are Not Well” is an apt encapsulation of Halloween, Alaskaʼs coolly shape-shifting aesthetic: A cozy bed of synths and spare, electro-flavored drums gives way to a sprawling, guitar-soaked anti-anthem. “Dance By Accident,” meanwhile, melds an irresistibly organic groove with deranged and disaffected vocal hooks. Songs like “Empire Waist” and “The Jealous Ones” find the band imagining a peculiar radio-pop utopia, while “Analogue” embraces the addictive discomfort of its own post-modern rock bombast.
All Night the Calls Came In also marks the solidification of a new lineup following an extended period of tension and transition. Singer/keyboardist James Diers, guitarist Jacob Hanson and drummer David King (also known for his intrepid work in jazz trio The Bad Plus) are joined by newly recruited bassist William Shaw, a fellow alum of Minneapolis cult favorite 12 Rods.
Halloween, Alaska broke into the indie consciousness in 2004 with an auspicious self-titled set of electronically laced art-pop. Initially hatched by Diers and King as a low-key, studio-based diversion from other projects, the group soon took on a life of its own, spreading by way of Internet raves and unlikely T.V. placements to amass a sizable cult following. After 2005′s Too Tall to Hide, the band’s moody palette began to expand as original keyboardist/engineer Ev Olcott resigned his post and Hanson began to introduce weightier guitar work into the mix. The change was evident in the restless sprawl of 2009′s Champagne Downtown, and when the group subsequently parted ways with original bassist Matt Friesen, the addition of Shaw set the stage for a more radical restart.
All Night the Calls Came In is both a continuation and a rethinking of Halloween, Alaska’s tuneful aesthetic. Packed with forthright pop hooks and nervy idiosyncrasies, its 10 songs offer an earnest and compelling capsule of the band’s self-imposed reboot.