The best new import from Belgium has nothing to do with its famous chocolates, but it’s a sweet confection nonetheless. Overflowing with acoustic revelry and beautiful melodies, Girls In Hawaii’s debut full-length From Here To There has finally made it across the pond. First released abroad in 2004, the album is seeing the light of day in the U.S. this Spring. And it’s about time.
Girls In Hawaii began as a competition between friends Antoine Wielemans and Lionel Vancauwnberghe. The two would challenge each other to see who could make a better song using an old 8-track recorder, and before long they had several finished songs between them. After a little collaboration, they rounded up each of their brothers and two other friends to complete the six-piece band. The appropriately titled From Here To There was self-recorded throughout Belgium on a mobile multi-track recorder and reflects a certain pastoral eminence. Sung in English, the breathy and heavily accented vocals (when they can be discerned at all) add to the album’s subtle mysteriousness.
“I want the sunshine everyday/ Just spend the time in a stupid way,” sing Wielemans and Vancauwnberghe on “Time To Forgive The Winter” while a simple acoustic chord progression marches forward. The track later borrows back-and-forth guitar posturing from Franz Ferdinand with seamless aplomb. The sunny “A Short Song For A Short Mind,” complete with shimmering keys and head-nodding chorus contains a re-imagined version of the classic “It’s not you, it’s me” excuse. Wrenching harmonies serve to take the edge from the couplet, “I think I have a problem with myself/ I’m sure you’d be fine with someone else,” and dress it in pop indulgence.
But the bright side of From Here To There is not without its doppelganger. The understated drumbeat and ghostly keyboard in “Casper” complement its whispered chorus and reveals a polarized side of the album. “Flavor” opens with a foreboding and effectively repetitive guitar riff and mechanical beat before transforming into a full-fledged rock out. This song reminded me, strangely enough, of Swedish band The Cardigans. Not the feel good jangly-pop of First Band On The Moon, mind you, but their darker, more mature follow-up, Gran Turismo. The striking difference between the two albums, marking what I’ve always considered to be an amazing evolution in sound, I saw reflected in the song variety found on From Here To There. The only thing missing is Nina Persson’s siren call (which still gives me chills, I might add).
The album runs the gamut from sunny acoustic tracks full of delightful harmonies to murky ominousness brimming with synth and guitar crunch. It’s the polarization of styles that keeps From Here To There interesting and gives it its strength, and will subsequently have me praying that international trade relations with the U.S. stay healthy.
The Cardigans – Gran Turismo
Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump
Shout Out Louds – Howl Howl Gaff Gaff