Creating happy music for sad people is a delicate dance.
A band can get all kinds of mileage out of bummer lyrics on top of bouncy pop, but the juxtaposition can easily wear out its welcome. The irony of Okay Alone, the debut record by No Aloha, is that its mélange of surfy, girl-group melodies and lo-fi space rock doesn't coalesce until it succumbs to the sadness.
From the get-go, Okay Alone shares DNA with the likes of Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast. The patient strums and finger snaps of "In Your Car," the stacked harmonies and shakers of "The Big One" all set the stage for a breezy album that keeps its preoccupations with relationship strife and impending cataclysm at a safe distance. The arrangements finally begin to open up on "Green," an introspective track that finds founding duo Brette Irish and Blake Ferrin finally trading the terroir of sunny Southern California for that of their native Pacific Northwest.
"Dream," the highlight of the album's saggy midsection, marries a wooly bassline with an extra ounce of sass to pay tribute to their namesake, a song from the Breeders' 1993 breakthrough, Last Splash. Irish and Ferrin break the news that the girl of your dreams is married and having a kid on your birthday. The song's acidity almost suggests the only thing to do about it is drink it off alone on your couch.
Then the album flips to side two, and Okay Alone becomes a remarkably different affair. Canned beats and wheezing synths sputter in the foreground. A lattice of guitars and bittersweet vocals rise and fall throughout "Break My Heart," which segues into the schizophrenic oscillations of "Diversions." The fuck-it-all kiss-off of "Spacey Lo" rides high on infectious synth lines and the assertive vocal interplay between Irish and Ferrin, who finally shed their sadness on the shouted repeats of "I don't care at all!"
Okay Alone then winds down with a grace and spaciousness that's a welcome reprise from the album's springy first half. "Summer/Fall" uses mournful open chords and cavernous reverb to pay homage to Mazzy Star. The lurching outro track "Hazy" fuses two disparate ideas of a proper send-off—an uptempo dream-pop sequence and a circular sing-along about regret and resolution—into a seamless whole.
Whether "Hazy" portends things to come or is a dusting off of ideas left on the table is uncertain. But No Aloha has a promising future in store, provided they take the time to carve out their niche in the surf- and space-pop continuum. It's a crowded market, but Okay Alone is full of hints that No Aloha are courageous enough to stand out.
SEE IT: No Aloha plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., mississippistudios.com, with the Fur Coats and Shadowgraphs, on Wednesday, June 12. 9 pm. $5. 21+.