Halo Circus’ New EP ‘The East Lansing Sessions’ Reviewed
I had the privilege to attend a few Halo Circus concerts and, each time, I was blown away by frontwoman Allison Iraheta’s powerhouse, so it is interesting to notice that their new EP, ‘The East Lansing Sessions’, showcases her voice even more than their debut album ‘Bunny’, which was released last year.
Recorded on the road at Troubadour Recording Studios in Lansing Michigan, the new EP featured 5 songs produced by Matthew Hager, and if 3 of them were already on ‘Bunny’, the arrangements are very different, much more stripped down, with acoustic guitar, strings, discreet trumpet and softer drumming, so that it gives you the feeling that Allison is singing in your living room for an intimate session,… and it may have exactly been what the band had in mind, ‘Initially, it was going to be something for our fans and everyone that got us on the road but, as fate would have it, it turned out better than expected,’ explains Allison Iraheta in the pre-order trailer.
The songs were recorded live and the EP definitively focuses on Iraheta’s powerful and very passionate vocals. As usual, she is in full command, passionate, bringing a rollercoaster of emotions during her formidable and effortless howls. The gigantic hooks of the songs are now almost exclusively carried by her voice, and songs like ‘Nothing At All’ or ‘All I Have’ sound more personal and softer with a melancholic combination of acoustic guitar, keys and horns, but the tunes do not lose any of their anthemic qualities, they are just much more vulnerable. The hard-hitting percussive parts of ‘All I Have’ have partially faded away, and Allison is showing her soft and moving side through the entire session. It’s even more obvious during ‘Band-Aid’, which was declared song #1 by Popdust last year, her vocals have never showed so much emotion, and the delicate musical arrangements forget a bit about the rock side of the music to bring a sort of folksy-gypsy atmosphere, curiously reminding me about the most quiet songs of Gogol Bordello’s gypsy punk Eugene Hütz.
The same subtle arrangements for ‘Stand-Up’ bring a similar ambiance with campfires and trip-on-the-road in mind, whereas their surprising cover of Neil Young’s ‘The Needle and the Damage Down’ could be the more melancholic song of the EP, like a ballad of the famous Canadian songwriter sung by Stevie Nicks. Everywhere, it is less about mighty howls and more about exquisite vocals swelling beautifully as the melody expand.
Halo Circus’ ‘The East Lansing Sessions’ will be released on May 5th and is currently available for pre-order on their website, with all sorts of merchandize and bundles. And the band seems to be on fire, at the image of their live shows: Recently, they successfully crowdsourced a 30-city US tour, and their fierce anthem ‘Band-Aid’ was remixed by John Taylor of Duran Duran. The band has also shared a video for this new recording of ‘Band-Aid’, following the band on the road, and despite the coldness of the landscape, there is a very warm and loving feeling attached to it.
If I had used expressions such as incendiary stage presence, or combustible energy to describe Halo Circus’ live shows, this EP will reveal something else. The music may be a bit less dramatic and explosive, but the fiery anthems can’t be tamed by an acoustic session, and the poignancy of Allison’s voice is more exposed than ever during this special collection of widescreen pop-rock songs. The new EP is as vibrant as their debut album, and as colorful as Allison’s neon-like hair, it may also show a more loving approach: as the title of the central song (Band-Aid) seems to say, it is supposed to be a healing experience.