Sugar (Polyvinyl)

Taking in Aloha's second album is akin to floating in jellyfish-infested waters: It starts as a peaceful dip -- and then you feel the sting.

With its shimmering vibraphone, lively congas, and cooing vocals, Sugar can be deceptively meditative. Despite its subtle charms and tropical flavor, however, the album is more than repackaged new age for sensitive bohemians or a soundtrack for shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond. While most bands that trade in this kind of pastoral pop make drowsy background music that comes off as little more than aural coconut oil -- a companion to summertime bliss, rather than the source of it -- Aloha never fades into the emo ether.

The band's largely improvised sound is pleasantly porous, allowing it to assume several forms within the same song and keep things continually moving forward, often toward a bracing climax. Opening cut "Fractures (Part One)" builds from a mesmeric drone into a percussive slam dance. Impulsive gems like "Let Your Head Hang Low" and "We Get Down" go from reflective to roiling, from pop to a pop in the mouth.

Of course, it's all relative. Tony Cavallario's spiky guitar, Matthew Gengler's acrobatic bass, and Cole Parks's jazzy drumming aren't intended to give Slayer a run for its money, but it's nice to hear a band of this nature inject some verve into its sonic vistas. As Cavallario cries at one point, "There's a reason I sing this dream louder than a lullaby," and that's to wake up the perpetually somnolent post-rock set. This is one disc that shouldn't be slept on.

More by Jason Bracelin


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