The Alialujah Choir is Adam Shearer and Alia Farah of Weiland and Adam Selzer of Norfolk & Western and M. Ward. All three band mates contribute to the at times haunting and other times warm harmonies that decorate the album from start to finish. For a supergroup of sorts, The Alialujah Choir maintains a sound both modest and unique. If I didn’t know any better, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody told me that Shearer, Farah and Selzer were triplets in the womb who spent their whole lives making music together. The sounds of their voices go together like peanut butter and jelly – the consistencies and flavors are different, but in unison, it seems nearly impossible to find a better match.
This self-titled album is their debut release, as the band only has time to get together one month out of the year while their other bands are taking breaks from touring. Within an industry dominated these days by singles and radio hits, Shearer, Farah and Selzer found themselves in bands that started out as folk bands but were transitioning toward rock music. In yearning to go back to their roots and create folk music, the three have paired up for the past three Decembers to create this collection of songs that they’ve bundled together as an album called The Alialujah Choir, which will officially be released on February 11th alongside a release show at the Doug Fir in Portland the same day.
The album displays its folk core throughout, remaining low-key and slow in most songs while picking up the pace a bit in others, such as “I Swear I Saw You.” Despite the speed of the songs, the tone of the entire album is a bit ominous and dark, but meanwhile spontaneous and real. As the album goes on, a common theme seems to be truthfulness; there isn’t a hint of arrogance or egomaniacal tendencies by three artists who have already managed to make a name for themselves within the industry. This is about something bigger; it’s about the instrumental arrangements, the pairing of voices, the poetry, and the roots of folk music.
Perhaps the greatest strength of this successful album is the flexing of its aesthetic muscles. The voices blend perfectly amongst themselves, but also to the instrumentals. The best example of this comes in “The Trouble I’m In,” which features a heavy use of the piano paired with a single melodizer but choral background vocals that make a sound fuller than you might imagine could come from three people, but still light enough to not sound forced or over-produced. Throughout its entirety, The Alialujah Choir maintains a sense of simplicity that works in its favor, as it accentuates the musical mastery behind the noises, rather than allowing anything to get lost.
The lyrics happen to be breathtaking as well. The album opens with a bold line that sets the tone of the album: “Never thought I’d take a chance/ Let it feel so good/ Turn my back on all I knew/ Came so easily and quietly.” From the get-go, we’re warned that this album is going to be a glimpse into the lives and storytelling of Shearer, Farah and Selzer. As the songs continue, it seems that the artists are looking for something that in the end might prove to be the dependence on others for happiness. They peek into the lives of others (or perhaps themselves, masked by the third person) to tell stories that carry a wave of sadness orbiting around what I interpret as the focal point of the album: reliance.
Take “Way too Soon,” for example, which paints a picture of losing a loved one who it may be impossible to live without. “It’s a long way/ From the night to the day/ But I need you so I’m gonna stay.” There’s a sense of longing in the main singer’s voice in this song, as though for fear of this relationship being pulled apart. It’s a scary thought, and often too real for many of us. Similar lyrics continue in “I Swear I Saw You,” which seems to be an after-the-fact story about a loss, be it of a life or a relationship. “I could hear you whistling in my dreams/ I could hear you praying/ … I’ll deny that talking in my sleep/ I was fully conscious/ I’ll deny that you’re so far away/ Cuz I swear I saw you.” Gutwrenching lyrics like these continue throughout the album, leaving me feeling the pain and dependence within these stories. It feels all too real to not get to me.
All that being said, there are a couple weaknesses to be mentioned as well. Perhaps the biggest weakness is the album’s ability to all blend together into one long song. Sure, there’s a sense of unity amongst the songs, but it comes in the extreme that it becomes hard to distinguish one song from any other. Each song has similar elements: beautiful instrumentation and harmonized voices. It sounds beautiful, but when you have a 30-minute long album full of this, you may find yourself left begging for a bit more diversity in the sounds. Even the transition between songs could use a bit more distinction; when one song ends in a note that the next note starts in, this lack of differentiation is amplified. Had they been able to make their individual songs stand out from one another more, it would also differeniate their lyrics from one another. I believe their lyrics were one of their strength points, but at times felt that they got lost behind the sound of harmonization.
I am left wondering what the inspiration behind the album was. Despite its shortcomings in some areas, I believe it’s something I’ll continue to listen to when I’m in need of music that sounds terrific and makes me think. My favorite song from the album is “The Trouble I’m In,” perhaps because I love songs with heavy piano, but also because I think this is one song that really stands out from the others; it pulls the instrumentals to the forefront, leaving the singing to stand as a support for the instruments rather than remaining in the spotlight for the whole album. Overall, it’s a moving album, and I believe that success is in arms reach for The Alialujah Choir.
Album Rating: 7.5/10