Cold, cold hearts

Halloween, Alaska mixes and matches from a dizzying array of influences.

Keri Carlson

As soon as genres establish themselves, they begin to bleed over into other types of music. For example, hip-hop has merged with everything from folk music to heavy metal.

“Intelligent dance music” now appears to be the genre expanding into foreign territories, or at least into indie rock.

The genre first began to appear in the early 1990s as a reaction to “stupid” electronic dance music such as Technotronic, which was popular in the 1980s. This electronic style is rooted in techno and other dance music, but intelligent dance music itself is usually not very danceable. What gives the style an intellectual edge is its glitch beats mixed with ambient waves and post-punk distortion that twists and turns around any sort of structured melody.

Now that artists such as Mouse on Mars, Aphex Twin, Oval and Boards of Canada have established a core sound for intelligent dance music, the music can do another contortion trick. Bjork is probably the most well-known musician to incorporate the genre with her swirling and lush melodies. Recent college radio favorites such as Dntel and Notwist mix intelligent dance music beats and soundscape with soft Death Cab For Cutie-like indie rock.

Local group Halloween, Alaska heads in the direction of these groups but veers toward 1970s rock instead. This works especially well on the group’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper.” With a heavy drone in the background and James Diers’ passionate howls, Springsteen’s song takes on a darker twist. The end lingers in directionless ambience that makes you feel the loneliness of an empty highway late at night.

Halloween, Alaska slowly eases the listener into their album. “You’re It” begins the album very delicately as if the members are tiptoeing around broken glass. The song remains timid and never builds up as you might expect. By the end of the third track, however, Diers repeats the line “Twenty times around the block, twice in every speed” for the first real hook of the album. This shows the self-titled compact disc is meant to be listened to as an entire piece, not as single songs.

Diers’ songwriting for the most part accompanies the music perfectly. On “Des Moines” he sighs despairing lines such as, “Boy with such sad wings should stay off tall buildings,” “No circus left to join” and “No star in the east.” Both the music and the lyrics possess a feeling of hopelessness.

Sadly, Halloween, Alaska often verges on becoming too emo. Sometimes it’s bearable, like a sweet promise ring song, but other times it’s hokey and predictable love songs like Matchbox Twenty. Sections of the album, in fact, come across as intelligent dance music geared for Cities 97 – safe and boring.

Despite some of Halloween, Alaska’s snoozers, there are enough moments of beauty and captivation that make the group one of this year’s best in the local scene.