Loud is the Night

Rating: 3.5

Label: Alive!

The old saying, “there’s nothing original in art” certainly seems to hold true in the contemporary rock hemisphere, where almost every band seems to be offering their own riff on some element of their parents’ culture. Think of all the old records, free of any personal connotative taint that inspire feelings of summer nights grooved deeply into before one ever was born; it’s no wonder that artists in our media-saturated age would revisit styles long thought passe. Most recent retro-leaning musicians seem centered around the embrace of pop and the plasticky synth sounds of New Wave, so imagine my surprise at popping in Loud is the Night from San Antonio’s Hacienda to find four Hispanic-American kids laying down breezy ’60s-era AM Gold, the stuff many-a Time Life compilation has been built on.

Hacienda are the brothers Villanueva (Abraham, Jaime, and Rene) and cousin Dante Schwebel, who started playing together with the intention of recording old songs they dug, attempting to get as close to the originals as possible. Demos made their way to Black Keys guitarslinger Dan Auerbach, who encouraged the boys to pursue their music, even offering to produce their first record at Akron Analog.

Listeners hoping for the kind of overdriven exorcism that Auerbach usually deals in will be disappointed here; instead, Auerbach captures Hacienda’s sound with a warmth and attention to sonic detail and authenticity that’s so important to his own records. Loud is the Night sounds like a guitar-based, less ramshackle Dr. Dog (friends of the band, who helped flesh out the record’s multiple-part harmonies). The record’s lyrics are pretty forgettable but its persistent mood is what counts here. It’s a record for a warm, breezy summer afternoon, colored with a little romantic melancholy.

The fact that Hacienda started as sort of a covers project reveals itself in the record, as melodies instantly recall other, older songs. Opener “She’s Got a Hold On Me” recalls Tommy Jones’s “Draggin’ the Line” bassline, “Hear Me Crying,” reminds one of “The Tide is High,” and the plink-plink-plink of the piano on “Little Girl” brings to mind the Turtles’ “Elenore.” These similarities never feel like artistic shoplifting yet they impart Loud is the Night with a kind of instant, friendly familiarity. Surely, if these guys were trying to hide their influences and inspirations, they wouldn’t have recorded an old Sonny & Cher tune, “Baby Don’t Go,” for inclusion here.

I’m excited for Hacienda, who will be serving as Auerbach’s band for his solo tour in spring of 2009. These guys are revisiting a tiny time period of pop music that’s usually ignored as bubblegum, in light of more socially or politically “important” music of the late ’60s. The only thing holding this record back is a handful of weak songs which is not all damning; sunshine pop was always a singles medium. Hacienda are shaping up to be an American answer to England’s criminally overlooked Coral and kudos to Dan Auerbach for listening to that demo.

by Chris Middleman

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