His Name Is Alive

TrackAlbum
Are We Still Married?Home Is In Your Head
The Sand That Holds The Lakes In PlaceStars On ESP
Bad Luck GirlStars On ESP
Baby You Feel Me UpNice Day EP
Everything Takes ForeverFt. Lake
Spirit Needs A Spirit ToolFt. Lake
Write My Name In The GrooveSomebody My Blues
Will Cover The Earth
I Have Special PowersLast Night
I Thought I SawDetrola
How Dark Is Your Dark Side?Xmmer

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Contributor: Brian Greene

His Name Is Alive’s catalog of releases is so dense and so varied that even though I am a music journalist accustomed to writing about bands, and even though they are one of my very favorite acts, I’m a bit at a loss as to how to go about saying why I believe they’re worthy of a post here. I was a little late in becoming acquainted with the act from Michigan, first heard them via their Stars On ESP album when it appeared in 1996. That record has a couple different things going on within its grooves, including some gospel feel and a psychedelic Beach Boys pastiche, but mostly what drives it is mesmerizing, girl-sung indie pop. I got sent off into countless and highly enjoyable reveries while dreamy songs like Bad Luck Girl and The Sand That Holds The Lake In Place buzzed into my ears through headphones.

Later on I got to know their earlier output, which started with the Livonia album in 1990. Those first efforts were more eerie than Stars On ESP, a little darker, more This Mortal Coil than Adventures In Stereo. I preferred Stars On ESP then and still do now, but certainly got taken into the occasional trance via otherworldly, slippery tracks like Are We Still Married? and How People Disappear.

I pounced on the Ft. Lake album the day it was released in ’98 and this one was rarely out of my home stereo and Discman for the next several months. The album is an embarrassment of riches. And it was no repeat of Stars On ESP. Warren (sometimes noted as Warn) Defever, the band’s restless, ever inventive mastermind and the lone constant throughout its tenure, brought in a new vocalist for this album, a black woman named Lovetta Pippen who brought a subtle soul feel to the offerings. This was not beach music or contemporary R&B, though, not with song titles like No Hiding Place Down Her. The blend of Pippen’s impassioned soul stylings and the other vocalist’s usual left of center pop approach, was an odd mixture that somehow worked. Ft. Lake is an album so rich and so diverse that if you’re a fan of it, you could listen to it fifteen times in succession and have a different favorite track each time through.

Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth (2001) took the inch in the direction of soul music that Ft. Lake paved, and went a mile with it. Pippen had now taken over as lead vocalist for the band, at least for the time being, and this really was just straight urban sounds. I was managing a record shop in Washington, D.C. at the time this album was released; when we played it in the store, customers who came in solely for current R&B responded to it and wanted to know where they could find a copy in the stacks (they always got thrown a little when we told them the band’s odd name). 2002’s Last Night was more of the same yet, in HNIA fashion, also different, the main change from the previous album being some long, Neil Young-like guitar passages, so that it sounded like the singer from Morcheeba was doing vocals while Zuma-era Neil and Crazy Horse offered support.

Detrola (2006) and Xmmer (2007) were both returns to form of sorts, with Defever and his then cast returning to the kind of arty, outsider pop they had first made a name for themselves through. But Defever wasn’t about to stick to doing just that one thing, and later in ’07 led his band through an album of free jazz, with Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown. They played that style of music like old pros.

There are hordes of other HNIA releases, both official and not, that I haven’t mentioned here. But if I try to say something about each of those items this writing will go on much longer than anyone would want. I’ve highlighted what I believe are the most important albums by a band that has held my attention for nearly two decades now.

 

His Name Is Alive official website

His Name Is Alive biography (iTunes)

This is Brian Greene’s first post for Toppermost. You can find his blog here with information on some of his music writing including his recent feature for Shindig! on The Raspberries.

TopperPost #305

2 Comments

  1. Rob Morgan
    Jun 29, 2014

    Excellent choices here. I discovered HNIA through being a total 4AD nut in the 80s / early 90s. I could never understand how someone so capable of so many styles of music could remain unheralded for so long. “Stars On ESP” is definitely a favourite album of mine – “Universal Frequencies” is such a perfect “Good Vibrations” homage and the different versions of “This world is not my home” make it something special. If I may make a quick shout out for the “ESP Summer” LP side project of Warren Defever and ex-Pale Saints Ian Masters, a curiously unsettling little record. Again, great choices for a worthy act.

  2. Brian Greene
    Jul 8, 2014

    Ian, thanks for the feedback. Good to hear from another HNIA fan.

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