We Review Things: Hauptharmonie | “Herz über Kopf”

Hauptharmonie is one of the most unique musical projects I’ve ever come across. Self-described as idols that exist outside of this Warring Idols Period, with a sound that knows no era, they can be music for everybody and almost nobody all at the same time; I’ve described their sound as “music for music lovers.”

Accordingly, I’m completely and totally in love with them. They’re the soundtrack to chain-smoking your way through a bad divorce in your office building’s basement gin joint. I want them to bring their faux-demure-barefoot-angry-flapper selves to this country to play the New Orleans Jazz Fest and blow people’s minds.

A while back, Phillter translated into Japanese a request letter that I could send to idol managers; there’s this here website, and you’re covered on it, and I’d really like to write a review of your next release, so would you please consider sending a press copy of it? Most don’t reply, but some do, and Hauptharmonie’s reply was absolutely gracious and generous. For enabling the acquisition and because Hauptharmonie is impossibly cool, Phillter wondered if he could contribute to this review, and to that I say sure.

So. On to the review!

Homicidols Album Review Scale:

Five Heartbleeds  One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: Both in relation to itself and music as a whole, this album could not possibly be any better.
Four Heartbleeds One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: This is a very damn good record, and you should probably buy it and listen to it all the time and consider starting a website dedicated to the artists that made it and albums like it.
Three Heartbleeds One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: More good than bad, but not great; one or two awesome songs can’t get it over the hump.
Two Heartbleeds One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: More bad than good, and lacks the kind of standout track that can take it out of the crappiness wallow.
One Heartbleed One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews: This is a bad, bad piece of work. Do not buy this.
Zero Heartbleeds: People associated with this should be ashamed of themselves; there’s pride to be had in any effort made to meet a goal, but that’s your only reward. Please don’t make music anymore.

This is a really perplexing album to review because it’s a really perplexing album. Hell, Hauptharmonie’s been prolific since the very beginning, but they just released a double EP two months ago, and this 16-track monster only includes two songs from that. Normally, you worry about things getting watered down in that case, but that’s just not what happened.

Nope. Hauptharmonie delivered. There isn’t a bad track on the album, though there is of course some unevenness, a lot of which is covered through a listen or two by the fact that there’s serious talent on the Hauptharmonie roster; at least two of the members can just plain sing like it matters, and nobody’s really a slouch in the way that often finds its way into idol groups.

The thing is, Herz über Kopf is long — it has 16 songs! And for a group that wears its musical diversity on its sleeve, 16 songs means covering a lot of ground. My impression is that it’s almost two separate albums, one a high-energy jazz-blues-rock-alt-ska-etc. combo on one hand and a mix of adult contemporary radio listen-to-while-doing-other-things pleasers. Of the two, that most preferred on this site should be obvious (that is, they have saxophone parts that go harder than many bands’ guitar solos, and their jazz and blues get heavier than a lot of their rock songs), but there’s high quality across the board even if it doesn’t necessarily work well enough together for a completely cohesive whole.

So, Phillter, what’s your overall impression?

Phillter: My overall impression was positive in some key areas, but underwhelmed in other areas. I love the direction that Hauptharmonie is going in: bringing a fresh new side to a genre that has BARELY established itself. This album has so many different things that so many different people will like. The conversation surrounding what should go into this album was probably as follows:

“Let’s throw in some smokey jazz! Like a night club in the 30s!”
“Yeah! And some blues, too! How about some ska?”
“Sure, we can do that!”
“Okay … we need 16 songs, though. Standard idol-rock?”
“Might as well.”

This is both the strength and the weakness of this album. There is something for everyone to love. But there are also some really safe tracks on here that feel out of place when compared to some of the more adventurous and standout songs on the album. I feel like they were at their best in this album when they were doing the jazz-fusion and ska, versus doing the more expected alt-idol songs, like the rock ballads you would show your parents.

Maniac: I agree with that sentiment for the most part. Personally, I have a well-established weakness for piano in rock songs and a lesser-known affinity for brass that could knock me unconscious, so just their being able to bring that intensity in the likes of “Kidnapper Blues” feels like a win. The vocals work so well, too, which I think is a nice effect of having various vocal types and a center, at the very least, who can wail with the best of them.

I know you disagree with this next point, though, so I’m going to go ahead and say that the single best song on here is “assuage his disappointment,” a slowly building synth-laden formula buster that puts the voices front and center and, honestly, is closer to Necronomidol’s “UMR AT-TAWIL,” only with much better singing and a tear-jerker chorus and an even more tear-jerking refrain that just breaks down. God. Damn.

Phillter: “assuage his disappointment” was a genuinely good song. The synthy build and the floaty sound almost reminded me of site-and-personal-favorite Yukueshirezutsurezure, but without the passion-fueled outbursts that are their signature. You also mentioned Necronomidol, and I admit that knowledge of them is a weak-point of mine (except for “Skulls in the Stars;” I listen to that AT LEAST three times a day). I felt like I was waiting for something that never came. While it was not bad in any way, it was not the best song on the whole album in my opinion.

That award goes to “Alice in Abyss.” When I first listened to it, my mind didn’t know what to think until the end. The slinky funk sound, with the incredible and emotional vocals at all the right moments, made that song for me. It’s the kind of song that makes you bob your head and tap your toes no matter where you are — at the office, in the car, on a blind date, wherever. Do you like it?

Maniac: Yeah, I like it, too. It actually reminded me of Motown in a way. And that’s one that’s more on the “oh yeah, I expect for jazz and ska and rock guitars to all converge on this album” spectrum. That is their best look, honestly. The more alt-rock they go, the less interesting the music gets on the whole. Like, “BUDDY” isn’t just derivative, it’s practically a recording of Beale Street itself, but it’s got this crunchy undercurrent that gets juxtaposed by deliberately over-pitched vocals and pissed-sounding spoken word, so it winds up being a blues-rock-idol conglomexplosion that I wish I could make out with.

Like, I’ll give you “Alice,” and let’s just go ahead and acknowledge the second-wave ska fun of “Old Gaffer’s Confession” while we’re at it. Combined with “Kidnapper Blues,” that’s a hell of a backbone, and it’s not even including “assuage his disappointment” (I will brook no further disagreement about its majesty).

That’s not enough for an album, though, and I’m just going to call out two other pieces that I thought were absolute winners: “Yearning” is imported from the bleich mini-album, and it’d be my #2 on the album just for that meandering interplay between the guitar and vocal scales; “King” is I think miscast as the closer, but it sounds like what would happen if Little Richard were set loose in a studio session with a trance DJ, and that complete disregard for convention does rather sum up the album.

I also liked “Parallel Warp” for being a playful bit of Britpop even if it did get a bit out of hand, but you didn’t share that sentiment, did you?

Phillter: Not really. I thought that “Parallel Warp” was so standard as a Brit-pop-rock song that it was a parody. The sound was expected for an alt-idol album, which made it fall that much shorter for me when you try to hold it up to the completely unexpected and fresh sounds of “Kidnapper Blues” or my second favorite, “Champagne-Gold Twilight Luck”, with its big-band sound and awesome bass line.

Maniac: Okay, then what are your weak points on the album?

Phillter: Having just alluded to it, my main weak point of the album would not be a weak point on a different alt-idol album — the really standard idol vocals of the later half of the album were disappointing. Now before I get my throat ripped out, I adored the petit pas! album that came out not long ago, and that is pretty standard idol rock, so it’s not that I don’t like that sound. I get that this is idol music, and as such a certain sound is expected, but if you show off your pipes in “Alice in Abyss” and then expect me to also like the I’ve-heard-this-a-million-times-before vocals on “Soprano Aubade Live” or “Shunkashuutou” (no, not the Osaka band, the song on this album), then you are delusional. The band holds up those songs and keeps them from being “meh” enough to ignore, but it would have been nice for the vocals to also help make every song memorable.

Another small point of contention for me was the schizophrenia of styles. The individual songs worked within themselves. The album overall made almost negative sense. This did not ruin my personal enjoyment of it, but for people who like concept albums or albums that sound good when you listen to one track after another, this is not the album for you.

Excluding “King”, which I felt should be in the middle of the album rather than at the end, did you notice the difference in vocal style in the later half of the album?

Maniac: I did! Or, more precisely, I noticed that there was a general stylistic shift right around the halfway point, or maybe a shift in energy, and the power vocals went with it for the most part. What’s kind of weird, and maybe this is the big difference in our takes, is that I thought it made its own kind of sense: Hauptharmonie’s thing is being outside of era and outside of genre, so why not try a bunch of stuff? So I don’t think that hurts the album on its own.

But the songs themselves didn’t work as well for me, and that did take some of the shine off of the album as a whole. “kirari” actually made me think of a certain strain of country-western, and I found “Champagne-Gold Twilight Luck” very there (maybe Copa throwbacks are your thing, but that’s the era of popular music that I like least). “Shunkashuutou” might have been my least favorite, to be honest, and I wasn’t all that excited with “almsgiving” or “Lady Far-east” or “Soprano Aubade Live” — I do have some overlap in musical taste with my mom, but not that much.

All right, I think we’ve broken this down pretty well. Your final thoughts, please, and how many Heartbleeds are you giving this sucker?

Phillter: Song by song, I’d give out 5/5s and 2/5s, but overall I’ll throw it to a 3.5. I feel like it has some very important songs to Alt-idol overall as a genre, with some game-changing songs that will become standards should a jazz-fusion sub-genre evolve in the future. However, given the option, I’d say buy this one track-for-track. “BUDDY,” “Kidnapper Blues,” “Alice in Abyss,” “Champagne-Gold Twilight Luck,” and “Old Gaffer’s Confession” are must-haves. And if you don’t like them, you are actually terrible person. But, it wouldn’t be a crime against humanity to skip the more rock-leaning tracks. Hauptharmonie, your jazzy-ska-fusion makes me shiver, but the idol rock tracks that could be on another group’s album just don’t need to be there! Maniac, your thoughts?

Maniac: I feel like trying to give this a straight-up score is almost unfair, the album being such an absolute monster. And how much do I let the fact that I really enjoy just sitting here and listening to it affect the total score? A good bit, because I don’t think Hauptharmonie really missed on doing what they were trying to do; they don’t do boundaries well, and this is a very exploratory album. Just think about the title, “Heart over Head.” That sums it up.

I’ll do your “buy this if” one better, though, and say that a person with diverse tastes should buy this, period, because they’ll likely find a few things to really love. But if your thing is idol rock, full stop, look into individual tracks instead.

Final score:

Score: One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews One full Heartbleed, the logo of Homicidols.com, used for reviews

Added to the Ultimate Homicidol Playlist: