His Name Is Alive


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Part of the thrill of a new His Name Is Alive album is hearing how the band has reinvented itself. On Detrola, Xmmer, and some of their other mid- to late-2000s albums, Warn Defever and company focused on refining their dream pop, though their numerous side projects and limited releases showed they could be just as adventurous as ever. It's refreshing to hear them return to their experimental side on a more widely available album; Tecuciztecatl, which is named for the Aztec god of the moon and counts Hammer horror movies and prog rock among its influences, is nothing if not daring. The album's story is pure rock opera, revolving around a mother pregnant with twins (including an evil one, natch), a doctor, and a demon-hunting librarian, and the music is just as elaborate: "See You in a Minute" spans heavenly Mellotrons, a molten guitar solo, and a free jazz climax -- and it's one of the more straightforward songs here. His Name Is Alive's previous genre-jumping means that Tecuciztecatl's risks are a little more calculated than they might be for other bands, and also means that they can craft a 13-minute song that never stops evolving. Opening track "The Examination" puts the progress back in prog rock, balancing bombastic touches such as talkbox interludes and church bells with snippets of Beach Boys-like pop so deftly that the lyric "see my ultrasounds" takes on a whole new meaning. His Name Is Alive embrace prog as thoroughly and creatively as they've bent previous styles to their whims, and Tecuciztecatl's big rock gestures allow the band's guitar prowess to scale new heights on songs such like the doomy mini-suite "I'm Getting Alone" and "Reflect Yourself," where they intersperse massive riffs with ethereal passages recalling their early days. Indeed, the band spends as much time playing with its own tropes as with prog's: "I Believe Your Heart Is No Longer Inside This Room" makes the most of His Name Is Alive's enduring flair for deceptively simple melodies and poetic threats, while the water drums that give "African Violet Casts a Spell" evoke Xmmer's global pop. The dream logic and emotive power of the band's other music also ensures that Tecuciztecatl doesn't sacrifice feelings for proficiency. The bittersweet undercurrent that winds through the album surfaces beautifully on "Yes Yes Yesterday," which sounds a little like a more psychedelic Carpenters or a less rowdy Fiery Furnaces, and on the all-too-brief finale "The Cup," which leaves listeners wanting more despite all that preceded it. Dazzling and mysterious, Tecuciztecatl is an album by and for omnivorous music fans, and demands and rewards immersion.

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