Little Windows Cut Right Through can almost be split in two.
It’s been six years since Aloha last graced us with a record. Little of what you love about the band has changed in that time. This is still a stylistically restless group that offers glints of jazz and smatterings of postpunk and prog in the context of what would otherwise be pure pop songs. No matter which direction Aloha leads us in, no matter if it succeeds or fails it’s a collective with charms that are nearly impossible to resist.
Little Windows Cut Right Through can almost be split in two: The first portion offers the most straightforward and direct songs while the latter portion takes us to more experimental and sometimes less successful places. But what a first half it is.
“Moon Man,” for lack of a better expression, is the ultimate summer jam: It’s dark, mysterious in the verses, then bathes the listener in light during the choruses, which are tempered by slight left turns that keep the listener surprised. “Ocean Street” momentarily flirts with the hippy leanings of Fleet Foxes but soon transforms into something weightier with the classic Midwestern emo flourishes Aloha has deeply embedded in its sonic DNA. The opening “Signal Drift” would have been a contender for major radio play in a different time and “Faraway Eyes” melds dance music with the band’s most raucous capabilities.
Then comes that problematic second act.
Aloha has always excelled at the off-kilter and here the best example may be “One Hundred Million,” a piece soaked in vintage synthesizer sounds and a floaty, spacey beat that calls to mind The Police at that outfit’s peak. It’s not as accessible as the record’s other tracks and all the better for it. “Don’t Wanna Win” manages to bring those two disparate concerns together: It’s a strange song that might have been beamed down from some distant satellite that, in the end, is also a fine example of deft songwriting. It’s wrapped in an emotional ache and longing that feels familiar but doesn’t devolve into cliché.
Sometimes the stranger tendencies get the best of the band and that’s some of this record’s undoing. “Swinging at the Fences” suffers from too many pastel synth tones, the production drowning out the compositions best elements and obscuring the passionate vocals that tell the story of a love unravelling. “Marigold” twists in too many directions to ever find the sure footing of the record’s best pieces and the closing “I Heard You Laughing” comes off as an afterthought, like a strong but ill-fitting Phil Collins bonus track. (Would it work better as a standalone single? Perhaps.)
That said, there’s something admirable about acts that extend themselves beyond the comfort zone, that try on new clothes even if those clothes don’t always fit that well.
In the end, Little Windows Cut Right Through fits comfortably enough with other, storied Aloha recordings such as Here Comes Everyone and Some Echoes. It’s not the band’s greatest moment but is a very strong one and very welcome return from a band that we’ve missed for far too long.