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Halo Effect is the least likely band to end up in a sleazy Behind the Music epic. Drummer Justin Korhonen has what is quite possibly the cleanest basement/practice space in all of north Minneapolis. Bassist Martin McGough drinks lemonade--just lemonade--out of a Minute Maid bottle. Singer Daniel Williams is known to pepper practice sessions with such epithets as "That came from the heart!" There is no smoking, little swearing, minimal banter, and almost no recitation of Spin¨al Tap/Simpsons quotes for this group. No strange Ethan Hawke-like dude is living on the couch upstairs. No one had to be woken up for 6:00 p.m. band practice. No distraught, codependent girlfriend is freaking out on the perimeter. Halo Effect manage their time well. Their rock-out sessions amount to what good Lutheran parents mean by the phrase "band practice in the basement."
Williams often asks the band to repeat passages, choruses, and verses just so that he can internalize them. With each reiteration, he appears more energized. McGough, meanwhile, stretches from side to side as though his back could use a break. Guitarist Kyle Wondrasch, standing just to Williams's right in a striped polyester pullover, doesn't say much. Behind the drums sits Korhonen, towheaded and puppy-like.
The music pouring forth from the basement studio has a '90s alternative sound, slightly dusted with U2, but with a dissonance and ambience that is very this week. The band members have a remarkable sense of poetry, enhancing the music by using the sounds of the words rather than their meanings. "Our songs are nonverbal at first," Wondrasch admits. "I like that--having no set meaning in the lyrics." Like the devoted speaking in tongues, the members of Halo Effect use gibberish in the early stages of songwriting. When Williams develops the vocal line, he starts by singing any old thing that pops into his head. Eventually, those random sounds develop into whole words, and lyrics fall into place--though they may change at any moment. Each member of the band contributes, offering suggestions until something jells. "Songs that fall together are the best," McGough notes.
Halo Effect's recent self-released album, Places from the Abstract Garden reveals a stylistic shift toward melodic development. Two years ago, when the group first formed, their music hovered in the area of sprechstimme, or spoken singing. Previous recordings from their debut EP, Waves, were simple, straightforward rock. On "Creep," "YOU FREAK ME OUT!" is screamed rhythmically and repetitively by the singer, and then likely by the listener for the next week or so. But on Places from the Abstract Garden--which will be celebrated with a CD-release party on Wednesday, November 6 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl--songs like "YR Tender" prove to be significantly more sophisticated: A haunting little melodic fragment repeats against the backdrop of wind and rain, then trails away. This is audio theater that tells anyone's lonely story with a bittersweet simplicity.
Halo Effect haven't mellowed in their new work. "King (Asking for Sleep)" an angry young man's memorial to a friend who died of a heroin overdose, mourns and wails for the full length of track three. When Williams sings, "You got what you asked for, man/Asking for sleep," he enunciates each word, lingering on the consonants in a way that recognizes that they're part of the melody.
Perhaps it's the meditative nature of Halo Effect's music that moved Williams to tears during a recent performance at the 400 Bar. While performing their song "Perfect Day for Flying," Williams's breathy vocals lingered on the words "I'm tired/Leaving/Feels like I'm gone." Looking back on that night, he explains that something inside him just welled up and spilled over into the audience. That, to him, is rewarding. That, to the band, felt like communication. And that, even for musicians who lead far more sordid lifestyles, is what makes a great performance.