Is great pop music timeless? Or does it cannibalize time, turning it inside out and against itself? Okay Alone, the debut from Portland, Oregon’s No Aloha, will certainly have you doubting the clock: patiently metabolizing a century’s worth of melodic valium into a 12-song set undeniably of and for the present, it’s a record full of five minute slow-burners that seem to pass by in seconds, fleeting hooks that lodge themselves in your spine for days.
Songwriting duo Brette Irish and Blake Ferrin form the core of No Aloha. The friendship began in high school and has weathered a revolving door of bandmates, a series of musical incarnations through which the two sharpened a shared pop instinct. That mutual intuition emerges fully formed on Okay Alone, which the band recorded in their hometown of Salem, Oregon. Moody synths and spacious electronic drums lay the foundation for sunny melodies that belie unsettling sentiments—a push and pull of optimism and pessimism specifically evocative of the Pacific Northwest but familiar to young people anywhere.
While the band takes their name from a Breeders song and certainly takes cues from all corners of that particular noisy 90s guitar pop mileu, they forgo the typically frenetic approach of many of their peers in favor of something more patient. It’s an approach to pop songwriting rooted less in cramming the most hooks per minute into a song than in finding something that feels right and letting it simmer. Early cut “Green” finds the band playing to this particular strength with an understated confidence—when the chorus is that good, don’t distract from it. “Don’t go so soon,” croons Irish, swept forward by a fantasia of synth and guitar. “Baby, it’s just a dream.”
While the current No Aloha live band is a muscular five-piece built to translate the expansive sound of Okay Alone, the record emerged from a time when Irish and Ferrin had been performing as just a three piece with longtime backup vocalist AliRae Aguirre, who they’ve also known since high school. At the time, they’d been playing along to backing tracks built around beats Ferrin programmed on his iPhone, many of which made the record. That adaptable millennial touch adds a hint of danceable vertigo to harmonies culled from the halls of pop history, a dizzying contrast that animates songs like “Dreams” and “Break My Heart” with the insecurity and discontent of young adulthood today.
Just as No Aloha keep one foot in the fuzzily melodic pop sensibilities of the 90s and another in contemporary sonic moods, Okay Alone is the product of the long gestating musical alchemy of old friendships, celebrating what is past while looking toward what’s next. “The record is really special to the 3 of us and our super long friendships,” says Irish. “I think it was only appropriate that we made it in our hometown.”