Thursday, January 2, 2014
After a long period of unusual inactivity, Portland singer/songwriter Tonality*Star is back at it, this time working under the guise of a full-fledged band called PWRHAUS. In every way, this is his biggest, most produced, most ambitious work to date.
The direction that PWRHAUS takes was previewed on the Down at the Roller Rink track 'I Fell In Love' — and indeed, some of the same musicians that showed up on that album are now listed members of PWRHAUS. There is still an air of anonymity surrounding the main force behind the band, as all of the musicians are listed, but their instruments are not and the album's final credit simply states "All songs written and produced by Tonality*Star" (this is the only credit he receives). But it's that by now familiar and unmistakable soprano whisper singing all the words, now atop a musical backing that's fleshed out by live drums, guitars, pianos and even a saxophone.
The album consists of twelve concise sad pop tunes. I was also gifted an extra four song EP —which is, get this, a cassette packaged in a cassingle slipbox— so that's sixteen songs in total, running a little over fourty minutes, making this easily the longest project in Tonality*Star's catalogue to date. Not a second is wasted — when most of the songs clock in at two or two and a half minutes, you'd expect as much. From the shambling marching band on acid sounds of 'You Could Be Mine' and 'What Do You Say' to the straight ahead anthemic rockers 'Go to Hell' and 'The Game of Love' (easily the EP's highlight) all the way through the hindsight-obsessed, regret-filled dream pop that I've come to expect on 'Broken Man' and 'Shooting Star' (arguably the highlight of the entire package), this is territory that shouldn't be unfamiliar to a seasoned Tonality*Star listener. But for those who are getting their first taste with this project, it will be a magical discovery.
The topics addressed are as world-weary and as bitter about love as ever before, but there seems to be a sense about these new songs that has a bit more maturity about the topic. This is no more evident than on 'Shooting Star' where, after a whole album spent pondering the life that could have been with the love of his life, Tonality*Star finally admits that indeed, "I'm gone, baby, I've moved on." With the same sort of childlike nursery rhyme melody that's coming to be his trademark —the sort that seems so obvious and catchy that you have to marvel at the fact that you're just now hearing someone whip it out for the first time— it's a bittersweet end to another emotionally hefty album.
If I have to compare this album to anything, I'd say it most closely resembles a more mature To My: Long Lost Love in its tone, while musically taking on a sound mildly akin to Belle & Sebastian's more contemplative moments. But, more than that, it's just wondrous to hear a songwriter grow so significantly and so unabashedly personally right before his burgeoning audience. PWRHAUS finds Tonality*Star at the peak of his powers to tug at the listener's heartstrings while simultaneously knocking out some fantastically catchy melodies. If this album represents him firing his strongest shots at all of his strongest points, it certainly bodes well for the future. As is, not only is PWRHAUS the best example of all of Tonality*Star's strengths, it's also his so-far best overall album.
PS— PWRHAUS was released at the band's New Year's Eve show, but sending an email to tonalitystar at gmail dot com certainly won't hurt your chances of getting a copy. In the meantime, keep an eye on this for more info.