March 27 2013 03:55 PM

New album does something new with surf-y sounds


Heavy Hawaii Goosebumps (Art Fag)

Heavy Hawaii has a way of sounding hideous and amazing at the same time. On the band's 2010 debut EP, HH, frontman Matt Barajas offers up an infectious, warped take on the kind of Beach Boysderived indie music that's become de rigueur lately. Onstage, though, he and his bandmates have at times resembled the sonic equivalent of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, churning out dissonant surf sludge with pitch-bent vocals and '60s-style pop beats.

On their new album, Goosebumps, Heavy Hawaii veer more toward sludge than pop. Bizarre and sometimes difficult to listen to, this isn't the most immediately satisfying effort currently making rounds on the blogosphere. But it's much deeper and more interesting than most surfy indie efforts, and it has a lot more to say.

While garage bands like Allah-Las are content to deliver simple, placating tunes, Goosebumps finds Barajas and guitarist Jojo Keylargo using familiar retro-psychedelic tropes to make something frightfully different. The 28-minute album is full of oooh-ing vocals, languorous hooks and swaying 6/8 rhythms, but it all feels more like a circus freak show than a retro beach party.

Anchored by beefy guitar riffs and a keyboard line that burrows into the skull, "Born to Ride" has an immediate appeal, conjuring thoughts of The Toxic Avenger cruising the waves on a longboard. But other tracks require a little more patience; "She Gets" sounds like a conventional piece of guitar pop that's been twisted out of shape.

Throughout the album, Barajas uses pitch-shift effects to tweak instruments and down-tune his voice, making for a smeary, tripped-out aesthetic. With it, you can detect an underlying sense of unease: In the ominous "Boy Season," a carousel of bright keyboards and murky bass tones evoke what it must feel like to ride a Gravitron on way too much LSD.

Indeed, Barajas manages to speak volumes with that pitchshifter. As his deep, cartoonish voice clashes with the album's sunny tones, you get a sense of what it feels like for a carefree young hipster to grow old, when the lazy, carefree vibes of yesteryear start to go sour in the face of growing responsibility.

It could be that Heavy Hawaii just want to mess around, and they're applying loads of effects to mask their shortcomings as musicians. But it seems they may have some provocative vision in mind. Whatever the case, Goosebumps works.

Email or follow him on Twitter at @peterholslin.


See all events on Wednesday, Dec 7