After 10 years, Aloha's Tony Cavallario wanted to do something different. Not that there was much to complain about with the band's releases up to that point, which carved out a comfortable if not terribly innovative niche in the post-rock realm. But Cavallario felt compelled to combine his longstanding love for experimental pop with a slew of stripped-down acoustic tracks he'd been working on that didn't quite fit the band's existing format.
"I had 10 acoustic-based songs that I thought would be great but there would only be room [for] two or three of them on an album before it got bogged down. But these were the songs that I was naturally inclined toward finishing. At some point, I said, 'Hey guys, let's go back to the studio and just make an acoustic EP. We'll have no expectations. We'll just go do it and see what happens.'"
The result was Light Works, a 30-minute gem of sophisticated but melancholy pop. The arrangements allow plenty of space for the songs to breathe while incorporating sophisticated counterpoints between the picked guitars, subtle drumming, and sparse sonic textures. The vocal melodies and accompanying harmonies are sung gently—neither over-emoted nor lackadaisical—with earnest yearning and pathos. The tempos move at a leisurely pace, giving an overall feeling of thoughtfulness, and the lyrics are from a second-person perspective, as if directed to specific people. For example, on "Body Buzz," the lyrics run, "Hello my friend, I'm so sure it's you again/You've emerged looking worse, but it's nothing we can't mend/Your handshake's so weak and your smile is a fraud, but you've come to the right place, and just in time, it's been so long."
Cavallario's inspiration for Light Works was the liner notes of his parents' record collection. And like some of the more unique bands from the '60s, Aloha recognizes that studio technology can serve as another instrument.
"With bands like the Left Bank and the Beach Boys and the Millennium, these were kids or producers using every tool at their disposal to make music something more than what it was. And if you take away all the production, you still have pretty good songs underneath. But, without the production it's not the same thing."
As a result, Cavallario relies heavily on the band's newest member, multi-instrumentalist and producer T.J. Lipple. "T.J. is probably the person that I work with most intimately with music. He's the one who handles all my vocals and does the mixing and stuff. I just think at that point in my life I just had to work with somebody who had his head on straight and was very song-oriented. That dictated the direction we have gone in the last three-and-a-half records."
Despite the influences, Light Works is not a retro-sounding psychedelic album. The final product lands closer to the lush earthiness of America or more current artists like Sam Prekop, Eric Matthews, or Richard Davies.
"The label thought that it would be some kind of breakthrough. But I don't believe that breakthroughs happen to bands," Cavallario says. "Luckily we have a fanbase so we don't really care."