Everything about Thunder in the Valley, defunct since 2007, appeared to gleam from within the amber tones of a weather-beaten storybook. Their first two albums always seemed to stand in the shade of the mythical, sloshing with the timbre of sea shanties and pub anthems. But their breakup, which followed on the heels of a lengthy recording session in Philadelphia, cut their Grimm's tale short and left their sizable fan base with a cliffhanger. The final chapter has arrived at last with Aloha, their fittingly titled farewell full-length, which was made available for free download shortly before the new year dawned. It's a most bittersweet goodbye—from the first track to the last, the album is their masterwork, at once a realization of their previous themes and a discovery of inner depths and frailties that few of their fans might have foreseen.
Their music has always been of a dusty, Victrola vintage, and on Aloha, one can still hear the creaking of the piano pedals creeping beneath the mix. But alive in Aloha is a newfound sincerity, a tenderness of both tune and timbre, that always narrowly eluded the band in their previous releases. On "Motherless Children" and "The Skies May Cease to Be," their previous clap-alongs bear upon the ear with newfound menace. On "94 in Reverse," the vapors of heartbreak and disillusionment drift like bog mist over elegantly simple composition. "I Love You for Detrimental Reasons" hops with snide wit. Throughout the album, Thunder in the Valley are at their musical and thematic best, evoking with every track an emotion that is singular and permanent. Lamentably belated and cruelly final, Aloha is a bold reminder of just how fragile and precious this band was, a most bittersweet exclamation point on the end of an exquisite sentence.