Hosannas TogetherTogether
Hush Records

It’s pretty much common knowledge that Hosannas were formerly called Church until an attorney for the band The Church in Australia cordially invited them to knock it off or get their asses sued. And so there was a brief interlude where the Portland aggregation inexplicably decided to call themselves Ape Cave, presumably in commemoration of the lava tube of the same name, situated precariously (given the mountain’s propensity for restructuring itself) on the side of Mt. St. Helens.

Apparently unhappy with the dubious move from the ecclesiastical to the geological, the band decided on a sort of ululative exclamatory ecclesiastical theme with Hosannas. One hopes, for all involved, that there is not some band in Spain that has been The Hosannas since 1967.

The prime movers of Hosannas, or whatever they purportedly call themselves, are the brothers Laws- Brandon who plays guitar and keys and sings, and Richard- who is the family percussionist, also playing keys and singing. Christof Hendrickson contributes very cool Moog stylings in many places, possibly in the capacity of providing bass lines- although that is not altogether sonically clear. Lane Barrington is the drummer.

The band released an album last May, “Then & Now & Then” that was mostly a collection of earlier efforts on a home, analog four-track tape deck, if you can imagine that! They also released “Song Force Crystal” in ‘09. But this new project would have to be considered the band’s first, real, studio presentation- produced by John Askew (Mount Analogue, Karl Blau) and recorded at Type Foundry and Scenic Burrows.

Hosanna’s music is rooted in alternative pop, with a nod to the masters of the genre, and by other more mainstream purveyors of contemporary music. They are a Pop band with one wheel seriously out of alignment. There are elements of “Smile” era Beach Boys, and a faint, ineffable intimation of Coldplay- a soupcon of Pink Floyd stirred into the musical broth, here and there.

They remind of the Shins, with the interference of several other radio stations bleeding through their performances. And just when the musical landscape seems to be taking shape, up bubbles some “Tom Sawyer” period Rush bass and synth- to alter the sonic terrain yet again.

The Beach Boys, “Smile” connection becomes readily apparent from the start of “Hoping That You Will.” Percolating high harmonies and liturgical organ anchor the intro before the song drifts into some sort of epic spaghetti western sequence, eventually evolving toward status as a heartfelt ballad. This is probably the least accessible song on the album, so why it leads off the record is a mystery to me.

Eerie, slippery synth-bass slides beneath soft, subdued syncopated drums on “Be Careful.” More ghostly guitar ethereally hovers like smoke above the reverberating musical milieu. Distorted, processed vocals add to a sense of stifling suffocation and trepidation. May be vaguely related to Radiohead circa “The Bends.”

Barrington contributes frenetic Phil Collins-ish jungle rhythms to “When We Were Young,” before settling in to a straight-ahead groove; synth-bass and strings complimenting, during a nice guitar solo by Brandon Laws. Here the arrangement and instrumentation threaten to suck the fragile context of the song beneath the surface altogether.

Something of a relief is the arid sparseness of “An Old Forgotten Tune,” perhaps one of the more direct songs of the bunch. And “John Pilgrim” with it’s interwoven background vocals, preserve the dreamier aspects the band maintains- with guest Alexi Erenkov’s forlorn clarinet sounding like a distant horn moaning in some foggy harbor.

“Multi-Chamber American Future” seems to be suffering from some sort of arrhythmia, the beat seeming to skitter away from the song. Hendrickson’s synth-bass groans and the roiling Moog lines prompt that Rush allusion. Familiarly, the wraithish yellow fog seeps down the alleys of the vocals and instrumentation, licking it’s tongue into the corners of the arrangement. The short, elegiac, guitar-infused fugue, “Tone Pony Crone Jonesing” induces strata of sounds to coalesce into a thick musical parfait.

Yawning Moog accents a tinkling piano, which pin together the brittle intro to “Open Your Doors.” It’s a simple enough song, and pretty, once one traverses the impediments and detritus left in the path toward its conclusion. Keyboard cello melded with trumpet and euphonium, contributed by Cory Gray, create a thick aural nest, to which the frail little song is tethered.

“Hello Moon” seems to want to hang out on Radiohead turf, with Hendrickson’s buttery Fender Rhodes keyboard fluttering atop Barrington’s Phil Selway-inspired, syncopatious showings forth. But, typically, Thom Yorke’s compositions invite such additions- require them, in most cases. Here they simply sound extraneous. It’s sort of a Beatles-esque number (“I Want You/She‘s So Heavy” ), but with Ringo on amphetamines. By this song’s conclusion you will hope you never hear another crash cymbal again in your life.

Playing against an arpeggiated synth figure, simple organ and langorous synth-bass, “The People I Know” unfolds gently, with only repetitive, annoying pink noise to interfere with the apprehension of the vocals. Drums and more dynamic Moog bass jump in at the half way point, opposed by an increase in noise in the midrange: noise which eats up an awful lot of dynamic range, perhaps better suited to the more musically distinguishable aspects of the presentation. This noise resolves into dusty jangly Native American sounding percussion, which may or may not be responsible for all the racket throughout the song- but it really doesn’t matter.

Hosannas offer a conundrum. Brandon and Richard Laws’ songs are delicate constructions, sometimes no more palpable than smoke. And often the arrangements here seem out of sync: gears that do not mesh, but indifferently spin, completely apart from one another. This is particularly true of Barrington- who is a great drummer- but he often plays as if he is trying to drive a song somewhere where it really, really does not want to go. Hendrickson is less obtrusive- yet his contributions still often seem incongruous or superfluous.

It has been rumored that Barrington and Hendrickson may have left the band. And that might not necessarily be a tragic event in the careers of either faction. Brandon and Richard could benefit from working with a drummer a little more straight-ahead and to the point and, perhaps, a player of an actual bass guitar. Barrington would fit in well with any aggregation whose music is as complex as his drumming wants to be. And as for Hendrickson, his services will be well-placed in an organization more aimed at an electronic sound.

Meanwhile, Hosannas are a band with songs and arrangements awaiting a rhythm section. Such a requisite is not easily fulfilled, but bands make that same adjustment all the time. It will be interesting to see how this band of brothers evolves- and what their name will be when that evolution is complete.

© 2011 Buko Magazine

Dan Reed

Dan Reed - Coming Up for AirComing Up For Air
Dan Reed
Zero One

A career in music is a misnomer. For most musicians, their “careers” in the music business don’t typically extend much beyond a few years spent living in a band house with eight other people, surviving on a diet consisting of nothing but McDonalds cheeseburgers, bologna sandwiches, PBJ and PBR. As experiences go, it’s pretty rewarding- something you can tell your kids about after you’ve given up the dream, settled down and gotten a real job.

Spiritual pursuits in the music industry are, by definition, a contradiction in terms. Anathema. For most musicians, to find spirituality means finding a good hook-up in Omaha that leaves no resulting complications: physical, psychological or moral. Some musicians do actually find a certain personal peace. But not very many.

In the past twenty-five years, Dan Reed has pretty much seen it all in the music business. Since the launch of his band the Dan Reed Network at the long departed Last Hurrah in December of 1984, Reed’s fortunes were on a consistent upward trajectory for many years.

After the release of their EP, Breathless, in 1986, the band hooked up with music biz impresario Bill Graham and producer Derek Schulman, eventually signing to Polygram, the parent company of the accursed Mercury Records label (see Nero’s Rome), in ‘87.

Late that same year the band released an eponymously entitled album, which spawned a couple of hits, including the memorable “Ritual.”  Soon thereafter the band toured the US and Europe, opening for Bon Jovi and then for the Rolling Stones on their Steel Wheels tour.

By the early ‘90s, as the band’s fortunes were beginning to wane. In 1993, Dan traveled to India, where he interviewed the Dalai Lama for a Spin magazine article. This led to divergent career changes. He became a writer and activist, involved in many worthy causes. He became a screenwriter and an actor. Around 2000 he opened and managed the Ohm night club, one of the Northwest’s most cutting edge spaces- home to Dahlia.

In 2005, Reed withdrew from the night club scene, renewing his search for higher purpose. He lived in a monastery in Dharamsala, India four four months, then traveled to Jerusalem, where he studied classical Judaism at a yeshiva for about a year. Later, he also lived in a Greek Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem’s West Bank.

Of those times, he has said.

“Investigating these different faiths, while at the same time keeping my feet in the secular world, affected my outlook on life and my music very much in that I feel in a world of environmental decay, corporate globalism, war and human and animal rights abuse… it was time for me to dedicate my energy and time to adding to the other side of the equation.”

So it was under those circumstances that Dan Reed returned to his musical roots, composing songs on an old beat up guitar he had purchased during his stay in India. After making a home in Jerusalem, he built a small studio and started developing many of the initial tracks for Coming Up For Air. In the creation of the album, a number middle Eastern musicians, including Israelis and Palestinians, contributed to many of the basic tracks- music thus accomplishing what years of political negotiations have been consistently unable to achieve.

The Dan Reed we find on Coming Up For Air is all grown up. This is a mature album, dealing with adult themes and feelings and a resolutely sober, some times somber world view- though a determined optimism always seems to find it’s way to the surface. Conversational. Philosophical. Earnest. Dan Reed is a true seeker. The mid-tempo songs (there are no real rockers) here wrestle with issues related to personal and inter-personal relationships: heartfelt and introspective, all written in the first person.

The title track displays a gritty, weary sensibility, the gritty weariness being comparable in tone and texture to John Mellancamp- “ We keep carving swords from our father’s plough/To cut off the head of the last sacred cow.” However, the production choices are dissimilar.

Dan’s musical decisions tend toward a more global approach. Here, Mark Eliyahu contributes a ghostly kemence (a 3-string middle eastern bowed-lute sort of deal), and Kfir Shtivi foggy key washes; while Clay Ostwald adds Bruce Hornsby-like chiming piano licks.

With a very nice nylon-string guitar solo, Rob Daiker sails over salient strings on the sweeping waltz “Losing My Fear.” “You’re the only teacher I ever need/I’m a perfect horn with a broken reed.” The song fulcrums beneath a gorgeous bridge, effortlessly lifting it to a higher place.

One of the few songs that would seem to approach “up-tempo“ velocity, “Closer” is motivated by Reed’s rhythmically propulsive acoustic guitar. Brief interludes of what sound like backwards electric guitar give pause for one to rethink the kemence sound in “Coming Up For Air.” But one must not dwell upon mysteries such as these for too long, lest his brain explode.

“On Your Side” is an impassioned ballad with a benevolent sentiment, colored by nice guitar and keyboard punctuations. All the instrumentation is so subtle, it is often hard to define all the various colors. Headphones are prescribed.

A bit of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” echoes in the opening theme of “Brave New World,” a song that lends credence to the impression of a nearly impenetrable depth of sound field. Swirling symphonies of possible strings vanish in wispy contrails. Slippery mosses slide upon the rocks of Daiker’s ethereal guitar cascades. A powerful song with a memorable chorus.

More probable backwards guitar effects faintly fog the decoration of “Middle of Nowhere,” another of the rare uptempo numbers- this one with a pretty, octave-jumping chorus, reminiscent of Tal Bachman’s “She’s So High.” A hit song. “Reach For the Sun” again displays Dan’s knack for writing an exceptional chorus. Tightly woven vocal harmonies provide a thick warm blanket around the pretty melody.

“Promised Land” intimates perhaps Peter Gabriel’s younger brother, an arid desert flavor provided by Eliyahu again on the klemence; along with violinist Srour Saleeba and Reem Talhamni: whose soaring, sighing, crying vocals evoke ancient wind and sand across a wide and distant expanse. “Welcome to the promised land/where dog eats dog and man eats man/God may be crazy, if this is his plan.” Saleeba’s weeping violin brings “Pray For Rain” to tears, especially during the especially moving fade of this very touching song.

Grabbing pieces of Charlie Chaplin speeches from his only speaking role in  “The Great Dictator,” Reed adds Chinese zither, fretless bass, as well as the familiar elements in this production, to create a sort of odd rap piece, that resonates with a message one could impart regarding today’s world and what humans do to it and each other in it.

Yes, Dan Reed is all grown up now. If he has not put his demons behind him- he has, at the very least, come to terms with them. This album is not going to be everyone’s cup of peace. Dan is nothing, if not resolute in his beliefs. And this album displays those beliefs in flying colors. But these are hard-earned songs, scribed from a hard-won wisdom. He is willing to share those ideas, if you are willing to receive them.