A couple weeks ago someone asked me to explain His Name Is Alive after I mentioned them in tandem with Red House Painters. They’re different beasts, but were both part of 4AD’s classic ’90s roster, a period in the label’s history that was especially important to me. So, really, it’s one of those personal and messy things: You group bands together, basically, because you were listening to them both a lot. (In that sense, it’s interesting to find out His Name Is Alive were, in fact, inspired by Royal Trux’s Twin Infinitives, an album I listened to incessantly around then, too.) If you’re unfamiliar with the band, here’s some history.
His Name Is Alive formed in Livonia, Michigan. It’s always been multi-instrumentalist Warren Defever with a circling cast of other players/singers, so you could really say the band formed in the mid ’80s when he started recording to cassette in his basement, the recordings that make up the first two albums in one form or another, but the official wider debut was the 1990 4AD named after his hometown. The music’s usually linked with other This Mortal Coil-inspired ambient outfits — and HNIA understandably comes up often in Grouper reviews — but Defever’s approach is more collagist, poppy, colorfully psychedelic, gospel and AM radio-influenced, Prince-sampling, noisy, and strange. It’s especially individual, eccentric, and compelling music that’s aged especially well — what Defever was going a couple decades ago sounds fresher (and, obviously, more original) than what a number of lesser bedroom recordists are trying to fit into today’s darker, swoonier zeitgeist.
Livonia offers a taste of that (via weirdo transitions and tidbits), but it’s one of his more straight-up “4AD sounding” efforts. Things really open up, and take you for an ecstatic spin, on 1991’s Home Is in Your Head, 1993’s Mouth by Mouth, and 1996’s Stars On ESP. You can’t go wrong with any of those. Ditto the much more difficult to locate King Of Sweet: It was released in 1993 in an edition of 2000 (between Mouth By Mouth and Stars On ESP, two of my absolute favorite, highly recommended His Name Is Alive records). It sold out in one week. The 15-song collection of tracks that largely originally appeared on even rarer self-released cassettes is prime HNIA material and more than worth being heard. Pyramids’ R Loren knows that, too, so he’s reissuing it on his new Handmade Birds imprint. In the spirit of the hard-to-get original, he’s keeping this new edition to 250 double vinyl copies. In case you miss out again, here’s one of the tracks, “In The Lake.” Before you listen, take a look at the thoughts on the record Warn Defever, who still records as HNIA, passed along earlier this week:
…a heavy dose of Twin Infinitives and [The Doors’] American Prayer were clouding my judgment. King of Sweet was probably the most messed up, drugged out, cluttered super jam I ever got talked into. Kurt Greisch approached me with the idea for releasing some of the things that 4AD hadn’t showed much enthusiasm for. Originally it was one unbearable 70-minute long track — I did all the layering and loops real time 1993 style before they had computers. [Regular HNIA vocalist] Karin [Oliver] really was a terrific singer, if you see her tell her to call me.
Here she is:
King Of Sweet is out 5/10 via Handmade Birds. To celebrate the release of the band’s classic early 4AD albums — specifically, 1990’s Livonia and 1991’s Home Is In Your Head — they’re also doing a series of 20th Anniversary shows, many in Detroit. The “XX” Twenty Year Anniversary Shows:
05/18 Chicago, IL @ TBA
05/19 Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Club
05/20 Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick
05/21 Detroit, MI @ Private Party (4PM)
05/21 Detroit, MI @ Burton Theatre
05/22 Detroit, @ Bike Ride (afternoon, all ages. Starts at 2000 Brooklyn ends at Bronx Bar)
05/22 Detroit, @ Lager House (Free Show)