In the afternoon on 12/12/2012, while the world patiently waited to take screenshots at twelve minutes past noon, a mysterious album quietly went up on Bandcamp with the mysterious name ミラクルミュージカル (the phrase “Musical Miracle” transliterated into Japanese katakana characters, presumably just to fuck with your iTunes). The mysterious band of mystery turns out to be a side project from singer/guitarist Joe Hawley of Tally Hall, something of a cult band from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Think Barenaked Ladies’ goateed American evil twin, or Ween on mood stabilizers.
Aside from the lack of humility, Hawley’s messianically monickered “musical miracle” actually offers something close to that. It’s bizarre, grating, stagy, and breathtakingly cool, with a scattershot set of influences—early Pink Floyd, Postal Service, the Katamari Damacy soundtrack, African chant, Gorillaz, Air, popular music of the 1910s—not shoved in a blender, but sewn together with the deliberate care of Dr. Frankenstein assembling his übermensch. Much like giant monsters made of corpses, Hawaii: Part II is kind of weird and not for everyone. But there’s no denying it’s interesting.
The album unfolds as a sort of intergeneric cabaret (or for that matter an intergalactic one). Opener “Introduction to the Snow” sounds like it belongs on an old 78. “The Mind Electric” is a single tape running backwards and then forwards, mirrored in the middle. “Labyrinth” offers a diverting side dish of chiptune rap. The closest thing to a consistent sound, running through “Isle Unto Thyself” and “White Ball” and “Time Machine”, is a vocoded glitchy space-pop concept that I’d like to nominate for the title of True Spiritual Heir To The Postal Service. (Death to the usurper Owl City!) As in any worthy stage show, bits of conceptual DNA wriggle between songs. A sublime bonus track, “Variations on a Cloud”, recaps and twists themes and lyrics not only from earlier in Hawaii: Part II but also from Tally Hall’s first/best album Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum.
Hawaii: Part II is often incomprehensible and compelling at the same time. With all its smushed-up genres and intertextual references, it’s meta music, Abed Nadir music, music for our hyperlinked times. It’s damn clever, but it’s also a deeply silly album, reassuringly. Hawley gets pretentious at times, but you’re invited along for the ride, not glared at for not getting the joke. What’s more, the pretentiousness is mostly well-earned. One of Hawaii: Part II‘s best features is the possibility that, to some degree, it represents something really truly new. Yes, it’s meta and stuff, and as 2013 dawns there’s nothing new about being meta, but Hawaii: Part II is far from just being the latest bit of mashup culture. Its degree of craft takes it a step or two beyond, a foot forward into whatever it is that comes next after hipster jokes and TVtropes and reaction gifs. I’m looking forward to it.