This reissue collects His Name Is Alive's fourth album and third EP, which explore the group's fascination with older pop and R&B styles. While the layered vocals, buzzing background noises, and other Defever production trademarks remain, Stars on ESP/Nice Day really pays tribute to '60s-era Motown and Beach Boys pop sensibilities. But what might be pastiche elsewhere is timeless and unique here. Though "Universal Frequencies" comes the closest to a remake, with its heavy debt to "Good Vibrations," the homages to surf, dub, folk, and gospel are filtered through the band's distinctive approach. So, Stars on ESP features three renditions of "This World Is Not My Home" -- based on the Woody Guthrie tune of the same name -- a blistering, blues rock version, a folky version, and last but not least, a version with a full gospel choir. Summer memories about catching fish and warm weather take the shape of girl group pop on "Bad Luck Girl" and "What Are You Wearing Tomorrow." "Answer to Rainbow at Midnight" mixes dubby bass, surf guitar, and white noise, and "Wall of Speed" and "Across the Street" are unclassifiable, other than that they're both sweetly sad, abstract love songs. Nice Day tackles the gutsier, R&B side of His Name Is Alive's retro recasting. The EP gets even closer to reproducing the '60s vibe on the soulful garage rock of "Crashed Up on the Corner." It's possible to do the hitchhike to "Whale, You Ease My Mind," while Lovetta Pippen's sultry vocals fuel the group's slow-burn cover of "Sinnerman." As always, the band finds room for sweet, jangly pop like "Nice Day" and "Drive Around the Clock" in the midst of their new rootsiness. As a bridge between the more experimental Mouth by Mouth and the funkier Fort Lake, Stars on ESP/Nice Day captures His Name Is Alive at an evolutionary stage of their music.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares