Our first glimpse at Hiva Oa was the March 2012 EP Future Nostalgia for sale. Its swirling and aromatic opening cut “Badger” heralded something truly different, a transcendent debut by a trio of relative newcomers. Within a few brief minutes the track weaves a clock-stopping mesh of cello, voice, drum, and effects: “a mountain and three rivers of delay,” writes vocalist Stephen Houlihan. The song is a force of nature to be sure, but perhaps not so unsubtle as rushing water. The abstract lyrics (“She goes/ any warning sign?”) and breath-catching strings are as brainy as they are alluring.
Fittingly the second track “Urban” introduced a second view of Hiva Oa: custodians of sheer acoustic mastery, playful and prankish, even in the face of heartbreak. The pure, hushed acoustic guitar and tugging cello nearly conceal the toy metal noisemaker and one-strike-per-measure glockenspiel line. Houlihan’s voice somehow encompasses both the longing and the good humor, while he draws a definite narrative arc: “How can I see, how can I breath, without my star…. I’m burning, but I’m learning.”
September 2012 saw the release of Hiva Oa’s excellent full-length album The Awkward Handshake, Hello, Kiss. Among the new material, some esoteric (“Mindful Of,” “Seadog”) and some slightly more grounded (“Not In My Name,” “Thunder”), it is clear those two inaugural tracks defined the boundaries for the game. “Badger” represents Hiva Oa’s R&D wing: nuanced and genre-defiant. Lovely but lethal. “Urban” fulfills their more traditional urges: sing-along laments about broken connections, helplessness, and pride. Granted, the prudent choice here is to pick up both the EP and the full-length album and wear your speakers thin trying to choose between one and the other. But as Hiva Oa primers go, the digital single “Badger/Urban” is truly inspired.
released December 10, 2012
Written and performed by Hiva Oa. Mixed by Hiva Oa. Mastered by Matthew Collings.
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