The debut record from D.A. Stern, Aloha Hola, reissued today via Slumberland Records, is the sort of release that's going to get a lot of reviews mentioning the power-pop charms of the album. And, yeah, Aloha Hola is full of numbers that seem like the sort of tunes one would have found on old records from the Yellow Pills era, but there's also something here that's a bit blissful and dreamy, and so certainly in line with the early releases from the fine Slumberland Records. And it's this effortless blending of a few genres that makes the music on Aloha Hola so wonderful.
From the instantly-catchy opener "Am I Ever On Your Mind?" and on to Fifties throwback "When I Said You Were Right I Was Wrong", it's clear that Stern has a knack for this sort of graceful rummaging of pop's past, the crunchy riffs in the first cut as memorable as the old-fashioned hooks in the other. Elsewhere, the spry Cure-isms of "Bluedgenes" sit nicely near the peppier "Diggin' For Something", all New Wave fuzz wrapped up in a farfisa swirl.
If David Aaron Stern seems a memorable new voice in the world of power-pop, the easy equal in spots to recent champions of the form like Jason Falkner or Jon Brion, it's the more elegant "Giving Up" that suggests some odd mix of lyrical alt-rock with ELO. And that's an impression earned less because of the supple verses here but more because of the simply gorgeous break in the middle of the song that seems like a ray of sunshine piercing a bleak February sky. Lush in the way that a Jeff Lynne ballad would be, but with the seriousness of mind about it that's all Ocean Rain-era McCulloch crooning over his first string section, the track is the sort of thing that elevates what was already a very good release in Aloha Hola into something superb.
And if the George Harrison-style ballad "Rising Suns" suggests another direction for D.A. Stern to pursue, and the Big Star-recalling "Miami" yet another, I think it's safe to assume after hearing Aloha Hola that D.A. Stern will probably head off in pursuit of his own unique pop muse. Sure, so much of what's here is gonna be familiar to fans of the very best bands, but it's the way that the pieces are put together without a lot of force that impresses a listener so much. D.A. Stern seems such a natural that it feels safe to review this record and pepper the prose with nods to all those other famous bands and musicians. Look, I know little of where D.A. Stern was before Aloha Hola, but I know that, having heard this record, I'm prepared to follow this guy down whatever modern pop alley he chooses to explore.
Aloha Hola is out today via Slumberland Records.
More details on D.A. Stern via his official Facebook page.
[Photo: Daniel Gonzelez AKA Danny Kokomo]