His Name Is Alive

Last Night

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Culled from the dress rehearsals for a Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth tour that never materialized, Last Night, His Name Is Alive's final album for 4AD, actually does the late-night soul sound better than the album that sparked it. Allegedly, the group left the label because Someday My Blues... strayed too far from the eclectic dream pop that they spent the better part of the decade perfecting and reinventing; in a way, they were being punished for being too creative. While His Name Is Alive may not have been a success at the level of the Pixies, the Breeders, or even Mojave 3, they were one of 4AD's most enduring and consistently inventive groups. Granted, Someday My Blues... was a radical shift in HNIA's musical direction that found the group immersed in faithfully reproducing slow jams; it was an interesting idea, but the results were as uneven as they were intriguing. By contrast, Last Night sounds much sexier and livelier, more soulful and, paradoxically, more like a true His Name Is Alive album. If anything, Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth now sounds more like a rehearsal for this album rather than the other way around. Beginning with "Deep," a brief, brooding string piece, it's clear that Warn Defever and company are using their full musical palette; though the album isn't quite as much like switching from station to station on the radio or putting an entire jukebox on shuffle as albums like Ft. Lake and Stars on E.S.P. are, it is a nice balance of their eclecticism and newfound soulfulness. The ghostly chorus and strummy acoustic guitar on the cover of the Equals' "I Been Good up Till Now" make it sound a little like a gospel-tinged version of the ethereal style they perfected on Home Is in Your Head, while "Crawlin'," with its sax flourishes and lush electric pianos, is as gorgeously crafted and dreamy as any of their earlier work, albeit in a very different way. Defever's guitars sound as beautiful as ever, whether they're clear and languid on the album's title track, or with a bit of crunch on "I Have Special Powers" and the sweetly soulful cover of Ida's "Teardrops." Likewise, Lovetta Sharie Pippen's vocals fit the material perfectly and shine particularly brightly on "Maybe," one of the most accomplished love songs that Defever has written, and "Storm," a sexy, bluesy number. With tracks as beautiful as the jazz/folk/soul hybrid of "Train" and as incendiary as the funky "Someday My Prince Will Come," Last Night is both focused and diverse, and one of His Name Is Alive's most consistently impressive albums, regardless of whether it's a dress rehearsal or a swan song.

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