As I started listening to Aha Shake Heartbreak, I was fairly certain it was going to be little more than another post-Built To Spill indie rock album. Sure, there were some interesting influences here and there, but there wasn't enough happening in those first few tracks to get me excited.
But the farther I got into the CD, the more excited I got. It wasn't just that the music was subtly painted with a palette of eclectic influences. That was cool, but what really hooked me was the way the band sounds as if they decided to ignore the rules and celebrate everything they love about rock music.
Musically, I don't know what these guys are into, but any album that can make me think of The Who, Joe Cocker and The Police over the course of a single song is doing something pretty good.
Aha Shake Heartbreak feels completely coherent, yet it sounds like it's constantly on the verge of falling apart. The performances are energetic and exciting, yet they sound exhausted. It's a good kind of exhaustion, though, as if the band had been awake for days on end but just had to pull one more song out of themselves before they collapsed. The songs aren't memorable in the traditional pop-song kind of way, but I was singing along with a few of them (especially "Day Old Blues") the first time I played the CD. Aha Shake Heartbreak puts a big smile on my face that keeps coming back every time I play the album.
Normally, I'd make fun of a band for putting such a blatantly obvious sexual metaphor on the cover, but this is a mighty fine bit of cover art. Yeah, Georgia O'Keefe pretty much killed the whole "flower-as-vagina" symbolism decades before these guys were born, but the cover photo is interesting and beautiful and... well, it's sexy. The liner notes are clean and open, the lyrics are easy to read, and the use of color ties the whole package together. Hiding the photo of the band as children (Kings of Leon are three brothers and a cousin) beneath the CD tray was a nice touch.
Listen if you like: any straightforward yet completely unique rock band from the past 40 years, be it The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Modest Mouse.
If it were food, it'd be: A simple burger, grilled outdoors, with a secret spice that makes it wonderful.