red lights


Ethereal piano pop with a bit
of British charm

Double Door
Chicago, IL
Oct. 8, 2006
Aqualung Aqualung

Story and photos by Andy Argyrakis

Matt Hales has had lightening strike twice in his career, first as a member of the Mercury Records' act the 45s and then as the figurehead for Aqualung. Though his first group never found massive fame on this side of the sea, it did create a slight stir in the U.K. at the turn of this century and paved the way for a solo career. While Aqualung may appear like a band situation, it's basically the moniker Hales uses for his piano pop musings (think Dashboard Confessional in concept) though he's often joined on stage by a backing band. Such was the case at this year's packed Lollapalooza performance, along with the Double Door, which continues the singer/songwriter's ongoing tour in support of last year's Strange and Beautiful.

The disc landed on Columbia after the title cut rose to fame via a Volkswagen Beetle commercial and is basically a compilation of Hales' previous two indie albums. But don't expect the project to rank with sell out status because of the corporate placement since Aqualung's American debut is indeed a fresh breath of ethereal air. And in concert, the material shined through in an especially enjoyable light given the artist's suave combination of dreamy arrangements, hypnotic vocals and poetic lyrics that cross somewhere between the lighter side of Coldplay, a less sarcastic Ben Folds and a more artistic version of The Fray.

Similar to the Lollapalooza set, Hales and his players provided additional atmospheric texturing to almost all of the Strange and Beautiful record, while previewing a handful of selections from a forthcoming CD. The evening began on a somewhat romantic note with the gorgeous "Strange & Beautiful (I'll Put a Spell On You)" that found Hales pounding on his pearly whites while escalating his vocal passion throughout each verse. That interplay continued on tracks such as "Left Behind" and "Brighter Than Sunshine" two of the disc's strongest selections given both driven by alternative pop power and sophisticated hooks.

The show also included a softer side that found the band delicately sweeping along with Hales' comforting crooning, best exemplified throughout "Breaking My Heart" and "Another Little Hole." Besides these familiar favorites, he also introduced a handful of new tracks including "Rolls So Deep" that seemed to balance both dynamics and hint at continued growth for one of today's most talented underground troubadours. Of course, there's always the challenge of beating a major label sophomore slump and a couple of consistent concerts doesn't exactly give Aqualung a "get out of jail free" pass. But it's safe to say that Hales' previous experiences, care for craftsmanship and rising acceptance level in the U.S. will certainly put the odds in his favor.

Aqualung Aqualung

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