Album Review: hawaiian air’s ‘LISTEN WITH HEADPHONES’

hawaiian air



It takes a certain level of boldness, of confidence in your audio engineering, to name your album LISTEN WITH HEADPHONES, all caps. In doing so, you’re immediately priming the listener for a high-grade audiophile experience and betting all of your marbles on the belief that above all else, your music sounds really good. For Germany’s hawaiian air, this confidence is earned and then some as they provide a bountiful and varied buffet of jazz-flavored dishes sure to please the ears of the most discerning of sonic snobs.

The aptly titled “No Serenity” is a paranoid piece of jerky electronic jazz prog slicing through swathes of soft ambient textures. Perhaps there is serenity, but it’s actively disrupted: syncopated drum and bass clash against each other and loop, punctuating verses with unnerving rhythmic detours as soon as you might adjust to its disorienting groove. Listening to “No Serenity”, there’s almost a fear that it’s maybe too good at what it sets out to accomplish: it’s the panic of when your mood stabilizers fail and mania sets in made manifest, erratic palpitations growing slowly more aggressive and oddly paced until they just… stop. The track ends suddenly, almost out of nowhere, like heart failure or a depressive collapse. Immediately it feels like a great pressure has been lifted, but also as though your soul has been sucked out of your body. It’s a dreadful, empty peace, but immensely effective.

“21719” and “project1” are by comparison far more soothing: “21719” (along with “Theme for Naima”) is LISTEN WITH HEADPHONES at its most auditorily prisitine: rich, sultry bass where you can hear every minute tonal shift with absolute clarity, no strain required, while odd electronics slither in the background like a rattlesnake made of smoke, jutting forth just out of range with a regular hiss: the wonder of observing something dangerous combined with the comforting knowledge that it can’t hurt you. “project1” is less dynamic, but as evocative: loud bass hums representative of a throbbing high after a long night of drinking as intermittent chimes pierce through the fog of contentment. It exists at the intersection of the high and the hangover, the transitional point of blissful ignorance and painful sobriety.

“Theme for Naima” is the standout stunner of this stellar set of ear candy, transporting you to an untarnished garden rife with charming flora and fauna. A re-imagining of Coltrane’s “Naima”, the saxophone melody is swapped for plucked strings, while birds chirp cheerily in the background: if the Garden of Eden is real, “Theme for Naima” is the portal. The feeling of Naima, or delight, grows stronger, louder, and more overwhelming, until it drops and shifts into a setting of a futuristic jazz club, with cool keys and a heady bass tone. The birds came along, however, and the place is ultimately inconsequential: the contentedness remains. “scifi1” sounds, well, sci-fi. It opens with hazy, blown out, eerie organ, similar to what you might hear soundtrack an old, cheesy black-and-white alien flick, before wild and arrhythmic bass rapidly transmits garbled information like a coded message from another species. “Eyes of Mary” is a spiritual piece, implementing touches of drone, ambient, and downtempo. One of the more subtle tracks, its hypnotic patterns and chants make it ideal for meditation. The album closes on “One Melody for​/​One Melody for Deerhoof”, a fittingly quirky and angular minute and a half that generally stays consistent, barring a brief spontaneous outburst shortly before its end.

There are plenty of fascinating composition ideas on LISTEN WITH HEADPHONES, but beyond anything we can actually say about it, you really just have to hear it. Its greatest power is its immersion, greatly enhanced by just how incredible this record sounds. Listen with headphones, indeed: hawaiian air might make an audiophile out of you.


Favorite tracks: “No Serenity”, “21719”, “Theme for Naima”


Rating: Essential


You can purchase hawaiian air’s LISTEN WITH HEADPHONES here.

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