Once again I was commissioned to write a review for The Chimes, and once again, it didn’t get published. So I’m throwing it up here for anyone who wishes to read, this time for Hellogoodbye’s newest CD Would It Kill You? which likely will be a better album than you think.
Local outfit Hellogoodbye of Huntington Beach launched their career with humble origins, making music for just their friends alone until they found themselves a sudden myspace sensation. Their Drive-Thru Records debut Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! was released in 2006 and lead single “Oh It Is Love” spread across the airwaves like a powerpop plague. They could have been able to crank out a few quick albums with equally catchy melodies and ridiculous lyrics and watch the money roll in, but instead Forrest Kline and company decided to take their fame seriously and write songs worth being heard. Thus, they ditched the lucrative commercial route handed to them and instead worked for five years on Would It Kill You? which is easily the best effort they’ve ever released.
The album features the same upbeat energetic sound that characterized their earlier work, and Kline with his boyish voice still sings about mostly girls, but fans will notice an obvious maturity. The vocals are vastly improved, and from the opener “Finding Something To Do,” we see that Kline’s range, personality, and willingness to take risks have shot through the roof. Sidewinding between smooth pitch perfect clean vocals to Strokes-esque screaming that frays under the lo-fi recording style, each song drives home the point that Kline is now a completely different vocalist, reborn to multi-layered improvements. The lyrics are no longer impersonal, simple minded and overly comical, but they now reflect some serious thought Kline has taken toward relationships and life in general, possibly on account of getting married since Zombies!. The lead single “When We First Met” is a reflection on his history with the girl who would become his wife, and while still retaining a fun hand-clapping bounce, it treats her as a three dimensional person instead of some faceless character existing only to provide a subject. Kline has found increasingly creative ways of expressing himself which are not just odd, but now well penned, “I tried to shake it/But it shook me down completely/ There’s no telling right now/ But I tried spelling it out.” Musically, the songs are no less infectious, but fans will notice that the band enlisted horns, a full orchestral sound and layered vocals to their sunny brand of pop. This may sound overwhelming, especially considering that Hellogoodbye previously had a tendency to produce tunes sounding like either too little or too much is going on, but somehow this record subtly channels it all so that the focus is always on the song’s honest core.
The classic instruments are also vastly improved, from the playful bass lines in “You Sleep Alone” to the peppy atmospheric guitars in “When We First Kissed” that make it sound like a track M. Ward recorded on brighter days. Their new production certainly has taken more of a vintage flavor in stark contrast to the chrome-slick glitz that characterized their Drive-Thru major label debut. The sound suits them well, and does wonders to songs similar to their earliest style of simple voice and ukulele ballads such as “The Thought Gives Me The Creeps.” Accompanied by sweeping orchestral strings that again somehow get by slightly unnoticed, the songs have become much more than demos thrown on myspace. The band matches their fun-loving personalities with creative ideas like falsetto vocals on “I Never Can Relax” serving as the main instrument, and the dancing strings driving “Coppertone,” which, melodically, is perhaps one of the band’s most memorable songs. The title track manages to be honest, upbeat, yearning and visceral all at once, “Would it kill you just to let it all work out?/ Trying so hard just to break it down…” and “Something You Misplaced” is ten times the album closer that “Two Weeks In Hawaii” was. If there is one thing we can hear from this release, it’s that Kline and the guys have decided to work hard.
The timing of this record was a bit odd for the band seeing as it’s definitely a summer record, and hopefully the old fans who found them in middle school have matured in music taste enough to catch up to this album. Once in a while we all need to blast some fast, happy, saccharine music on the freeway and instead of some billboard top 100 guilty pleasure we now have a rebooted Hellogoodbye to fill that criterion. They’ve released not only by far the best record of their career, but also perhaps one of the best pop albums of 2010.