Gravity Wins!

by Greg Locke
Gravity Wins!

Thunderhawk singer/songwriter Josh Hall is down in his basement, playing a song for you – or so he claims on Thunderhawk V (also known as Gravity Wins!), a 12-song tour through the many indie rock sounds of the mid-90s. "Yes, I really am the guy down in his basement, writing every song and playing every instrument," assured Hall in a recent interview (for the record, he also records, produces and masters all of his own music). Claiming to have over a dozen finished albums lying around, Gravity Wins! is Thunderhawk's second officially released album, and, according to Hall's off-and-on drummer Doug Market, it's Hall's best work yet.

Opening with a blast of bouncy horns Hall taught himself to play just for this album (yeah, he's like that), "I've Got a Bullet with Your Name On It" is an instantly likeable opener with Malkmusian lyrics like "Tripped down the stairs / Head over heels / In love with a real psychotic girl / I think she could change / Or pick up a gun and blow out your brains." Believe it or not, the overall vibe throughout Gravity is hopeful – hopeful but beaten. Hall's voice and delivery are nothing if not wholly friendly and loose.

Track two, "Molesterton Indiana (The Wolf)," just might be the most Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain-sounding song since that landmark indie album itself was released over a decade ago. When Hall sings "I'm gonna get you high" repeatedly, you know he means it in a pure way, and when delivered over bouncy guitars and yet even more self-taught horns ... well ... you wanna "get high" with the Thunderhawk. You want to push the "repeat" button and, as the kids say, "get blown." Somewhere around the 3-minute mark the song buzzes off, and in rolls a mini song called "The Wolf." Any Pavement fan will instantly recognize this early album hidden track technique from the Slanted and Enchanted daze; this is just one of the many nostalgic nods to indie rock's first golden era, an era when Hall's heroes – Frank Black, Stephen Malkmus, Robert Pollard, etc. – were gods.

"Style Points" somehow bridges the gap between indie rock's two busy periods (the mid-90s and right now), sounding at once like both Sebadoh and The New Pornographers; like all of Gravity Wins!, it's a fun, expertly executed song that never takes itself too seriously. Next up is "Movin On," a song that could, should and would be a hit single if the right Mr. or Mrs. Moneybags heard it. It's here where Hall's Pixies influence first pops out, as he nearly howls "I've been away for a weekend / Maybe two years!" Two-and-a-half minutes pass, and it becomes clear that Hall – hell bent on very well-equipped D.I.Y. production and ears schooled on every brand of pop music from the Beatles to Ween – is the real deal. He really is the myth: the guy in his basement accumulating a treasure chest of golden songs – not because he wants to get rich, but because it's what he does – and he really doesn't worry too much about his face ever appearing in Spin or Paste Magazine. Maybe the right person "discovers" Hall someday, or maybe not; either way, the youngish multifaceted rocker is making indie rock gold. Every song on Gravity Wins!, all of which have their own sound identity, is good. Very good.

The piano-driven "Older in Years" sounds both classic and heartbreaking: "Now that she hates me / I'm sad and I'm wasting / And I want a kid who looks just like her mother / Run with a hose as we chase one another / I'm older in years / But as long as I'm here / You're older in years." It's a sad but hopeful song that leads into a Pixies-like back-and-forth assault called "Backlash," which plays through like a 3-minute musical take on Cameron Crowe's definitive grunge-era film, Singles. As they say, the hits keep coming, and Hall has expertly sequenced all 12 of 'em (not to mention a few of the aforementioned tail-end mini songs), making for a solid front-to-back listen.

Until Hall is "discovered" and makes it out of his basement, everyone who finds this album (or any of Thunderhawk's material, really) will feel like they've discovered a treasure. The songs, style and know-how are all here, as is the heart, humor and diversity needed to make Gravity Wins! not just one of Indiana's best albums, but one of 2007's all-around best listens. (Greg Locke)

Copyright 2007 Ad Media Inc.