Genre constraints are usually seen as just that—constraints. This view then prescribes some choice of contrary actions, supposing the wish to keep a piece of art unconstrained. There is the choice to remain apathetic to any idea of genre, and there is a course of action that is one largely of parody, exhibiting the limitations and preconceptions of a certain genre in a flippant sort of manner, or doing the same with a tone deemed worthy by many to attract more serious considerations, satire. Lastly, there is the honest appreciation of a certain genre or style that, if I may submit to an even broader generalizations, is an increasing trend with perceived postmodern reflections upon popular culture. Jason Holstrom’s semi-solo debut, The Thieves of Kailua, is such an example of an earnest appreciation and exhibition of a certain conception of Hawaiian music.
Whether or not this conception is a genuine representation of the folk music of the great state of Hawai’i is not the point to pay attention to, which seems apparent after only a couple of songs’ listen. Jason Holstrom seems to be embracing the Hawaiian music that has lived through decades of western influence and corporate exploitation in so many movies, commercials, and TV shows, that is, a Hawaiian music prominently featuring ukulele, falsetto choral arrangements, with the wavering twang of a steel guitar certainly present. The vocals of the tracks two and three, “Welcome – Clouds Roll In” and “On The Waikiki” practically shout that sentiment from atop of Mauna Loa, advertised with the first track, “Crystal Green” where many easing melodic pieces are put together to create something with a tone that would be wrong to call urgent, but just as wrong to continue to call easy. “The Thieves of Kailua” the biggest track yet, both in minutes and compositional variance, maintains a very simple rhythm primarily, vocals reaching in arcs over melodies. The rhythm then drops, moving in steady campy stamps to the soundtrack of The Purist Tourist, to be reprised later in the album, afterward picking up the rhythm of the Thieves of Kailua, a rhythm with comparatively much more commotion and action that is all tied together safe in sounds harmonic and inviting.
Such seems to be the predominant feeling of The Thieves of Kailua, a very welcoming sound due to the exotic sensibilities of the music, relying upon instruments and sounds that are mostly seen as novelty in most popular music, but nonetheless keeps things from the chaotic, harmony and traditional pop song structure maintained, remaining unthreatening to the visitors of the foreign islands, a revival of sorts of the sentiment of the noble savage who lives without the social trappings of western culture, but have instead liberated themselves from the musical habits that seem so ubiquitous: guitar, bass, drums, and vocals packaged in twelve three-and-a-half minute songs. The mischievous yet playful actions of the Thieves of Kailua in the album’s title track represent this best.
The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up
Summer Hymns – Voice Brother and Sister
Yo La Tengo – Summer Sun