John Hermanson is perhaps best known as one half of Storyhill, a folk duo that has achieved minor commercial success – the press release boldly proclaims that Storyhill has sold more than 35,000 CDs. Personally, I am not sure if such a statement is a pro or con in respect of promoting Alva Star. Whatever.
Alva Star is to all intents and purposes, not Storyhill. Alva Star is a rock band, which has already released a solid pop-rock debut in Alligators in the Lobby (2001).
Down Escalator is Alva Star’s sophomore effort and certainly qualifies as an undiscovered gem of 2006. Together with Erik Appelwick, Darren Jackson and Ian Prince, Hermanson has concocted an intelligent work of pop-rock art that also serves as a scathing commentary of the fickle music business.
In that sense, much of Down Escalator bears the strong influence of The Kinks in its delivery and outlook. On tracks like the opening atmospheric “Escalator” where Hermanson complains, “I was confused/And then abused” and the pleasing “Comeback,” Hermanson rather sardonically remarks, “Everyone loves the new sound/And everyone needs a new soundtrack for the record.” Could Hermanson be referring to anyone specifically?
This sense of bitter betrayal (not to mention the shattering of dreams) colours the rest of Down Escalator even as the music gets more polished. “Downsides” is blissful chill-out soul that almost comes across like a lament whilst “Curtain Drops” is a gorgeous soft-rock ballad that is a wistful study of life’s disappointments.
So Down Escalator is a bittersweet pill of sorts, you just have to admire the potency of the melodies and performances but there are times that the melancholy vibe can be a turn off. Not by too much, mind you, to make Down Escalator an essential modern pop-rock purchase. A