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CD Review: Various Artists Operation Aloha (Operation Aloha)

Boasting members of such popular bands as Maroon 5, Gomez and Phantom Planet, the loose aggregation known as Operation Aloha qualifies as a modern “supergroup,” I suppose.

Boasting members of such popular bands as Maroon 5, Gomez and Phantom Planet, the loose aggregation known as Operation Aloha qualifies as a modern “supergroup,” I suppose. Frankly, it was the presence of Phantom Planet bassist Sam Farrar and the word “Aloha” in the album and group title that got me to listen to this disc at all. And though there aren’t many songs that sound particularly Hawaiian here after the opening track, “Ika Pono,” ukuleles do abound on this disc, but stylistically, the CD is dominated by more of a modern/alt folk–rock vibe. In all, 14 musicians gathered together over a period of a few weeks in a remote jungle idyll on Maui, jammed, wrote songs, and helped each other out in every way possible to create an amazing album that sounds almost like it’s the soundtrack to some wonderful unseen indie film.

I was frustrated by the lack of individual credits in the album packaging—apparently they’re trying not to single out individuals, but rather highlight the selfless collective efforts of the group. That’s a nice thought, but I wanted to know more. Finally, persistent e-mails to a publicist eventually yielded a list of who sings on and plays what on each of the songs. Lead vocal duties are passed around liberally to a handful of different singers, a couple of whom I knew—like Farrar and Gomez front man Ian Ball—but several who were new to me and impressed me mightily: Nadav Kahn, Fil Krohnengold and Christopher Wray-McCann. Ball drives some of the most intriguing songs here, including “Failure,” “Elephant Pharmacy” and the moody “That Pier.” But I want to give a special shout-out to Wray-McCann, who delivers a pair of spare folk songs: “Blue-Eyed Son” is an updated offshoot of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (which itself was inspired by the old English ballad “Lord Randall”—the circle is unbroken!), and “Waltzing Matilda” appears to graft some modern lines and ideas onto Eric Bogle’s epic anti-war song about the Battle of Gallipoli, “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” (I don’t know the source song well enough to know for sure, but I’m fairly certain there are no lines about IEDs in that one!) Each listening to this album has revealed new things to me and suggested new favorites; always a good sign with a CD.

There’s an ambient, you-are-there quality to the recording that’s really appealing—it’s easy to picture these folks sitting around a big room on humid and rainy Hawaiian days and nights, the sound of reverb-soaked electric guitars and fluttering ukuleles drifting out into the surrounding jungle as giant palm tree leaves clatter gentle percussion accompaniment. Or maybe that’s the Hawaiian romantic in me projecting. Anyway, a nice touch that is pure Hawaii here is, to make the CD is exactly 60 minutes long, the last seven minutes is the sound of waves breaking on a distant shore. Mahalo for that, guys!

No engineering or production credits included, but videos on the Operation Aloha MySpace site show folks recording with portable gear in living room environments.