In 2010 Blue Hawaii graced us with the bubbly and buoyant EP Blooming Summer. The band’s first proper full-length album, Untogether, takes a sharp turn away from the happy-go-lucky debut. Untogether shows a different side of the Canadian duo. Brooding and drawn-out, Untogether finds the band taking a fraught voyage through the chilly experimental pop for which Montreal has become known. While there are some brief moments of joy over the 11-track collection, the undertone is undoubtedly dark and gloomy, leaving you feeling more disconnected from the world than ever before.
Like fellow art-pop innovators Grimes and Doldrums, most of the songs from Raph Standell-Preston (of the shimmering guitar-pop group Braids) and Alexander Cowan draw you in with hypnotic percussion and let you get lost within your thoughts. The first song on the album, “Follow,” takes you through three different phases. First, you are drawn in by an echoing voice that slowly drips over the slowly drumming bass leaving you feeling helplessly alone. It then picks up, introducing a xylophone-like beat, before slowing down to almost a complete stop as the vocals glide over the last few seconds of the ominous beat.
The song that follows, “Try To Be,” is probably the most coherent and least despair-filled song on the whole album. Stepping away from the experimental pieces, the acoustic guitar loop and slightly bubbly vocals stand out on an often complicated, puzzle-like album, creating (even if only for a moment) a simpler vibe. The third and fourth tracks, “In Two” and “In Two II,” are just as dreary as most of the songs on the album, but they offer an upbeat rhythm that you can almost dance to. The vocals pop in the mix and don’t merely fade into the background as the synths drone on. The xylophone-sounding instrument heard in “Follow” is reintroduced in these songs, providing what really is the emotional climax of the record. From there on, the album drags a bit as Standell-Preston and Cowan get lost in the labyrinth of sound, depressing and boring us at the same time.
Despite the brief head-bobbing beat at the beginning of “Sierra Lift,” the second section of the album takes a turn for the worse, submitting to its own mesmerizing spell. The duo introduces so many sounds that it becomes difficult to parse and actually listen to the music. Feelings of separation anxiety, confusion and loneliness are hard to express, but Blue Hawaii successfully leaves us with these feelings on “Daisy,” “Flammarion” and “The Other Day.”
Untogether definitely will not be featuring at any spring barbeques or summer tailgates. The brooding album is one for self-reflection on those winter nights when you want to be alone with your thoughts. This is great in its own right, but for the next album, the group might want to let a little more light in as well.