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On Deck: Blue Hawaii

By ; March 11, 2013 at 7:05 AM 

Blue Hawaii

Raphaelle Standell-Preston and Alex “Agor” Cowan make music which escapes all but the most detailed explanation.  It can’t and won’t rightly be called electronic, dance, or indie-centric but is some alchemic amalgamation of all three.  Propelling skittering beats alongside Raphaelle’s ghostly vocals and Cowan’s deceptively minimalist instrumentation, their latest collaboration for Arbutus Records, Untogether, finds them digging further into a clinical and sterile emotional detachment that seems far removed from the apparent warmth and sense of commonality that found a host on their 2010 debut EP Blooming Summer. The duo holed up in Vancouver for the  majority of the recording and writing and the ever present winter landscape tinted the music with a chilling sense of foreboding and hesitant intimacy.

Cowan was kind enough to sit down for Beats Per Minute recently and talk to us about a few of his favorite records.  It may seem odd to think that one half of Blue Hawaii would call 2001 by Dr. Dre and The Sign by Ace of Base two of his favorite records but if the long and storied history of (indie) music has taught us anything, it’s that influences are never the sole indicator of an artist’s own musical pursuits.  The sum total of any given musician’s influences may at times have a correlative effect on their own work, but just as often, they’re just signposts on the highway, beckoning the listener further on–into some undefined musical ether where influence and execution may or may not have any relation, and that is exactly where we find Blue Hawaii.  Check out Cowan’s choices in the latest installment of our On Deck series.

Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92 Vol I and II
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 Vol I and II

This music opens up a whole world. It represents a whole side of music to me which is so important but which is difficult to recognize. The creation/supplementation of an environment — like scary music in a horror film – the music you don’t realize is playing but affects you nonetheless. Music is unique in its ability to be appreciated in a secondary way – Eno really got into that – and by embracing it, by compounding the feelings of yourself and your environment, you experience stronger emotions. Ambient music can make a room come alive in the most subtle but best way. The rest of my picks are distinctly non-electronic, but I should say that minimal/deep house is what I listen to 90% of the time. I’m just digging a bit into my past here.

Townes Van Zandt - For the Sake of the Song
Townes Van Zandt – For the Sake of the Song

I’ve never been able to stop holding his songs close to me. I find them really sincere, and I also like the sound of country music a lot. I enjoy the clarity in it — of the instruments, the rhythm, the words. Zandt always really stood out for me — he’s like a sensitive cowboy man from a rich Texan oil family who just wanted his own life. And so he went down a crazy path to meet his fate. The first song he ever wrote was “Waiting Around to Die” in which he discloses that doing codeine is about the only thing that feels good, but it’s gonna kill him. I watched this haunting video of him playing it decades later just before he dies, and his voice, his mood — everything just says its true.

The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

This is filled with such good songs, its hard not to like it. I was always surprised by how much the album flipped between soft and hard (though even the hard distorted stuff is smooth somehow). And everything is just so beautiful and catchy. Captures so many moods and times. I don’t listen to it anymore (well I pretty much only listen to electronic & friends music now) — but yes, it had its time, It’s an obvious choice, I know.

Ace of Base - The Sign
Ace of Base – The Sign

First music I ever remember liking. I heard it in the back seat of Dad’s car, and I remember buying a couple copies of the CD and listening to it constantly. I never knew what pop music was (I’m actually still completely confused by it) but when things line up perfectly, it likely sounds something like this.

Dr. Dre - 2001
Dr. Dre – 2001

I am picking pretty obvious choices maybe, but this album defies time. Its production is so tight. It still sounds so good. And things that sound good as a result make you feel good. My two favourite tracks are “Xxplosive” and “The Message.” If you wanna look into it, this is a deep record too. I really like how in Xxplosive the whole song is like “fuck my bitch she aint worth shit” and in the chorus Nate Dogg (I think) is singing now that he’s sober she aint so fine, but he doesn’t want to treat her wrong. Its all contradictory and confused but this lifestyle is like that. And its sick. It sounds so good, you become it.

Also: I really should have mentioned John Lennon’s demos, probably instead of Ace of Base, hahah. There are hundreds of his demos out there and they are possibly the coolest/most inspiring thing to listen to.

Be sure to check out Untogether, the latest album from Blue Hawaii, out now on Arbutus Records.

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