The debut full-length from Portland band Divers combines a classic American rock and roll sensibility with a taste for punk, blues, and indie textures. “Hello Hello” is a wonderful first record that seems to be a signal for truly incredible music to come, showcasing Divers as a definite band to watch.
“Hello Hello” slowly burns to life with intro track “Getaway,” a short song that showcases the band’s versatility in a surprisingly uniform fashion. “Getaway” starts off as a sparsely strummed acoustic affair before picking up a stomping, echoing bass drum beat. That beat builds steam slowly as the stray parts of the song—the minor electric nuances, the full-bodied bass guitar pulses—merge together and “Getaway” reaches an understated rock apex. This apex disappears as quickly as it comes to fruition and the song is over. It sounds like a no-brainer concept, but the importance of a “hook” at the beginning of an album, especially for a band as young and small as Divers, is essential. “Getaway” is the sound of the band drawing you in quickly and seamlessly—not with an earworm chorus but with an intimate and engaging introduction.
Luckily the intro track isn’t misleading in its quality, as the nine tracks that follow it make for a rock solid debut rock and roll record. Divers takes cues from bands like The Gaslight Anthem and The Menzingers in its ability to merge punk tendencies with the style of heartland rock Bruce Springsteen perfected in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Lead singer Harrison Rapp’s vocal style is dry-throated but flexible enough to nail the big anthematic choruses in tracks like “Lacuna” and “Blood Song.” There’s enough sonic variability here to keep “Hello Hello” interesting—especially noteworthy is the bluesy groove of “Last Dance.”
The recording style of “Hello Hello” is definitely homegrown—sometimes the mix is very muddy and the different elements seem to meld into one sort of bland wash. However, these moments are easy to overlook, and for the most part the sparse production value is to the benefit of Divers’ blood-filled rock stomp. The recording sounds like a live performance—occasionally some things are so loud the nuances are lost, but it’s hard to be too disappointed when there’s so much to move and sing along to.
Divers is at its best when they’re letting this live sensibility run the show, when everything feels loose and breezy. “Lacuna” is certainly a highlight for this reason, flaunting an especially Gaslight Anthem-esque chorus. “Tracks” is also a winner in this department, a summary, rubber rolling on the pavement kind of song.
While “Hello Hello” is certainly a good introduction, yet it does seem to lack a sort of individuality. This is understandable for a young band like Divers, still looking to find its distinctive sound. However, it does leave a little to be desired when there are bands like The Hold Steady working in the same realm of rock music and making incredible work. At the same time though, this can be an exciting notion, since the band has a whole career in front of it.
Album closer “Stateline” reflects this excitement for the future—erupting into rock and roll chaos in its last moments before cutting off. Here, it sounds as if Divers is building toward something great and new, but the band leaves this statement unfinished. With a great start like “Hello Hello” under its belt, it feels safe to bet on Divers’ ability to follow through wonderfully.
Jordan Walsh can be reached at Jordan.firstname.lastname@example.org.