Blue Hawaii are an interesting case for the creeping influence of electronic music. The Montreal duo's last few releases of wispy folk-pop featured synthesizers, but they still felt like window dressing to music that was rooted in other traditions. Not anymore—Agor and Raph have discovered dance music and crafted a bewitching album of sparse pop that incorporates its textures and timbres rather than trying to imitate the music itself.
The two apparently wrote much of the album separately, which explains why Untogether often feels like Agor is attacking Raph's delicate songs with electronics, or as if she's asserting her presence over his undergrowth of artificial sounds. The disparate process arguably adds to the album's cohesion; one gets the sense that each partner was hesitant to go too far with their additions. The result is a record that's sensually stark, with not one extraneous moment marking its naked contours.
The album's most dominant element is silence. Between Raph's voice and Agor's subtle electronics, every dolorous sound is clear and sharp-edged. Opener "Folow" is an impressionistic array of transient sounds and vocals held in place by flat slabs of bass. Its conclusion also reveals Untogether's strongest attribute: looped, wordless vocals creating brand new melodies. It's a tactic borrowed from bass music and reused here to surprisingly good effect.
Some of the album's best moments come when Blue Hawaii up the dance ante. The stunning "In Two" suite is dizzy and diffuse in its throbbing second movement. Raph defiantly climbs atop the seasick crush of voices, commanding silence as she sings "It doesn't hurt, it only makes me sicker/And we, wiser/An end to us." It's simple but piercing, revealing an unsettling lyrical undercurrent for those who can pick out concrete words amongst the artificial stutters.
As its title would suggest, Untogether concerns itself with a dried-up relationship. Handling the subject with approachable honesty, the duo run the gamut from breakup songs to "Sweet Tooth," which describes the virtues of making love to someone you know truly well. "Try To Be" might just be the group's best, ruminating on identity, disappointment and independence. It's also the record's most organic track, following the heavily manipulated opener—a palate cleanser of acoustic guitar and voice bathed in luxurious reverb. In the verses, Raph sings against a fleeting chorus of her own voices, before gently soaring solo and then crash-landing right back into the thicket of gasping sighs. It's beautiful, and confusing—impossible to tell if her earthy tones are wistful or triumphant. It's one of the many mysteries on Untogether, a record that uses its shadowy atmospheres as an escape route even when it sounds stripped bare. It's post-modern pop for a generation growing more obsessed with dance music.
Tracklist: Blue Hawaii - Untogether01. Follow
02. Try To Be
03. In Two
04. In Two II
05. Sweet Tooth
06. Sierra Lift
07. Yours to Keep
10. Reaction II
11. The Other Day