The same question the Joker posed to his victims in The Dark Knight could just as easily be asked of many Orange County rock bands: “Why so serious?” The tendency of many acts around here is to approach their material with the sternest of demeanors, with no room for what could be a welcome touch of playful lightheartedness. It makes sense, really: Given that the area’s still best-known for producing tongue-in-cheek pop punk, there’s no doubt (ahem) a temptation to go to the other extreme.
Melanoid’s Asleep In the Wake is the latest in this curious case study. Other than the title of the album, there’s also the sparse liner notes full of artsy pictures of things such as dying trees and old buildings, as well as such lyrics as “Sentence yourself to please your faith” on “Early Grave.” It would all be a bit much if not for one tiny little detail: The music is excellent.
Essentially a solo project from John Hanson (brother of Josh Hanson, lead singer of fellow OC band Yellow Red Sparks), the album is full of pleasant surprises. “Early Grave,” for instance, is much peppier than the lyrics suggest, breathing life into what could be a melodramatic dirge. Vocally, Hanson clearly takes cues from Thom Yorke; “Future to Pretend” sounds like it could almost be a The Bends B-side. Hanson is hardly the first musician to be inspired by Radiohead (more like the billionth), but he makes one of the best attempts at working with and expanding that formula, in part with some nifty string arrangements throughout the record. Songs such as “Stop This” and the refreshingly upbeat “Thought You Know” gallop in a way all their own.
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Released in January, it’ll likely stand as one of 2009’s best local releases by the end of the year—as good a reason as any to take yourself seriously.