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Blue Hawaii Serve Up A Chill on “Untogether” (Album Review)

Arbutus (2013)

Canadian duo Blue Hawaii may be named after Elvis Presley’s 1961 big-screen musical, but their full-length debut album, Untogether, is so resolutely chilly that it’s more likely to conjure up images of Arctic snowstorms than Honolulu beaches.

Indeed, the pair’s decision to write and record each of its eleven tracks separately over the course of a year (hence the name) appears to have resulted in a complete erosion of the warmth they intermittently displayed on 2010’s Blooming Summer E.P.

Released through the same Arbutus label responsible for Grimes’ hipster-baiting Visions, the record’s air of austerity shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. But although Alex ‘Agor’ Cowan’s mechanical production, all chopped up glitchy beats and pitch-shifted samples, is supremely inventive, Untogether is just a little too clinical to captivate in the same way.

Raph Standell-Preston tries her best to provide something of a human heart, her fragile tones often recalling Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser, particularly on the more stripped-back tracks such as the woozy electronica of “Yours To Keep,” the gorgeous hymnal closer “The Other Day” and the almost a cappella lullaby of “Sweet Tooth.”

Meanwhile, the sleepy acoustic folk of “Try To Be,” the lush New Age of opener “Follow” and the shimmering “In Two,” whose shift from meditative trance to slow-motion house provides Untogether with its most thrilling curveball, prove that Blue Hawaii are not totally averse to the idea of a tangible melody. However, much of the record floats by in one giant amalgamation of meandering synths and sparse beats stuck in a ‘too low-key for the clubs, not low-key enough for the comedown’ no-man’s land.

And with the likes of New Look, Purity Ring and Polica already beating them to the boy/girl downtempo punch with far more compelling debuts, Blue Hawaii should perhaps consider adopting a sunnier disposition next time around.

3 / 5 stars     

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About the Author


Jon O'Brien's love of music began as a six-year-old after becoming bizarrely transfixed with the 80s poodle rock of Heart, Europe and Def Leppard. Switching his attention to pop icon Michael Jackson, he then became addicted to the UK Top 40, becoming a rather pointless walking Wikipedia of chart positions in the process. Driving his poor neighbors up the wall while learning to play the drums as a teen, he toyed with the idea of becoming a musician, but in studying Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, he realized heÕd rather write about music than perform it. Since then, he's written thousands of reviews and biographies on everything from bubblegum pop to death metal, but electronica remains his main passion, with everything from Aphex Twin to Zero 7 in his spare room-consuming record collection. Jon resides in northwest England near Liverpool.

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