The first full album of original music from Halloween, Alaska since 2011 is neither young nor naive nor angry nor desperate. It's the latest artifact from a veteran band with a persistent cult following and a distinctive indie M.O. whose influence can be heard and felt far beyond its native Minneapolis. Le Centre is an audacious set from a group that was electronic with live instruments well before such things were standard. In 2018, Halloween, Alaska feels more like a band than at any other point in its history, comprised of founding members James Diers (voice/guitar/keys) and David King (drums/keys), guitarist Jacob Hanson, and bassist William Shaw.
The new album's ten songs exude a range of commanding moods and textures, from the frenetic indie-prog palette of "Ginger" and “Defender” to unlikely pinches of R&B or blue-eyed soul, as on “Long Views” with its Prince-inflected guitar solo, or on “Passport Pages,” which comes off like some modernist mash-up of Spoon and a Steely Dan B-side. "Cosmetics" posits post-D'Angelo funk through the lens of hazy '90s slow-core, while the slow-burning dance floor balladry of "Don't Need Shade" harkens to the band's ambient '00s origins.
In the wrong hands, this constellation of reference points might come off as cold or intellectual. But Le Centre reveals Halloween, Alaska as a warmly human outfit through lyrics and themes that neither strive for earnestness nor dismiss it. As ever, Diers excels at lines and refrains that can be both self-deprecating and a little romantic (“I did a little research into how the sun sets” from “Temper”) or acerbic without seeming jaded. As a whole, it’s familiar but challenging, restless but inviting. Sonically, the new material benefits from the intrepid ears of engineer Brett Bullion (Now Now, Bad Bad Hats, Dem Yuut), who recorded and mixed the album in Minneapolis.
Halloween, Alaska started as a true side project (featuring members of stalwart favorite Minnesota bands such as The Bad Plus, 12 Rods, Happy Apple, and Love-cars), an outlet for indulging electronic tones and an almost meditative restraint. But over the last decade and a half, it’s become something quite different. The group has adapted and endured with a collaborative, experimental spirit that's confident enough to color outside the lines without betraying the ultimate beauty of the bigger picture.