Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Perhaps the connection has no business being made, but so it goes. Halloween, Alaska, is a band from Minneapolis, Minnesota, that for the longest time, remained a group anchored to that city, rarely playing many shows elsewhere. It's not as if it was stuck there in the Twin Cities, but all of its members had real life priorities that didn't allow for prolonged enough travel to make up a proper tour. It was chosen entrapment, but being stationary is still being stationary and with those god-awful winters of bruising and bitchy coldness it can feel even more confining. A few years ago, pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman (whom we achingly miss not only from Spin magazine, but from Esquire too - what gives?) released his first novel, entitled "Downtown Owl," about a fictitious town in his home state of North Dakota, set in the 80s and revolving around three sad characters who were stuck - for one reason or another - in a dinky town where everyone knew everyone else's business. There was an old man who hung out at the local diner drinking coffee all day, who was taken for all he was worth by a pseudo friend in a gambling scheme. There was a depressed high schooler who hated his coach and gym teacher and a fresh-out-of-college history teacher who knew nothing else to do at night than to hit the bars with the townies. All of them were gobbled up by the worst snow and windstorm anyone had ever seen at the end of the book. It just ends with white, like a television set ripped of all its programming. The people were just gone, sudden ghosts and footnotes, if anything could be footnoted in its non-existence.
The music that Halloween, Alaska tends to make could ably represent the eye of such a windstorm/snow gala - such a storm that could wipe out at least an entire city of life or whatever passed for life prior to the system. It's not music that bullies or overturns vehicles, knocks out all the power, shatters all glass that it comes into contact with or plunders full houses. It provides the soundtrack to what it would be like to be planted right in the middle of all the crushing actions, watching and taking pictures while remaining relatively unharmed, save for a few stray pieces of shrapnel and detritus just flying around, bound to strike something. It suggests of what's impending, what's on its way here right now. Lead singer James Diers, who takes a subtle Ben Gibbard approach, is heard singing, "This is everyone running," on repeat on the song "Un-American" and there are many instances of clamoring, chaos in the band's music, but all formatted to fit into the calm of the storm sort of understanding.
The band brings all of its dramatic spaces and signatures to life with an electronic and slo-core behavior that lets the expressions feel as if they were traumatic masterpieces that we were actually very lucky to have had a chance to be exposed to before the lights went out for good. Diers sings on "Be A Man," "My planet, my sweetheart/let me in/like a needle for your arm," and it continues with a trembling sort of glow that eases us from fear to a scared and sacred comfort, which is different in a good way. It's a gentle defense of whatever is coming - the full wipeout or some sort of recovery, as if we won't be erased and that the warnings and reports of the severity of the weather were greatly over-exaggerated.
**Essay originally published in August, 2009