Release Date: Apr 5, 2011
Record label: Bloodshot
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
A few facts about Springfield, Missouri’s favorite sons Ha Ha Tonka. Despite their moniker, they’re not a goofy barroom band, though they call Bloodshot home and can bring the rock when the situation demands it. They’re really more of a singer-songwriter-y, folk-y, indie rock-with-a-mandolin band these days. Second, these guys really know how to give an album an evocative title (‘07’s Buckle in the Bible Belt, ‘09’s Nove Sounds of the Nouveau South and now Death of a Decade).
After digging deep into Southern gothic territory on their album Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South (a song cycle inspired by the writings of Harold Bell Wright), Missouri's Ha Ha Tonka have moved into lighter territory for their third album for Bloodshot Records, Death of a Decade. But rest assured lighter doesn't mean lightweight; if Ha Ha Tonka's lyrical themes and musical frameworks are a bit less dark on this album, their Dixie-fried indie rock is still potent stuff, and with Brett Anderson's mandolin showing a new prominence in the mix and the group's rich harmonies sounding stronger and more confident than ever, Ha Ha Tonka are emphasizing their Southern musical heritage while sounding smart and thoroughly contemporary. As on their previous albums, Ha Ha Tonka are a band with a very real wit, but they tend to dwell on topics that aren't all that comical, and the troubling spiritual quandaries of "Jesusita," the fierce romance of "Usual Suspects," the forlorn bluegrass-infused art rock of "Lonely Fortunes," and the widescreen drama of the title cut show this group's songs read as clever as they sound.
Rock criminally neglects the mandolin, an instrument too often relegated to album-ending acoustic ballads or cash-in unplugged records. So the high, tight strums stand out on Ha Ha Tonka’s third album, Death of a Decade, as Brett Anderson plays the lead riffs on “Usual Suspects,” lending the song an aerodynamism that makes it an ideal opener. Elsewhere, he shades in the songs the way an artist might use a pencil to add subtle shadow.
Show-Me State quartet Ha Ha Tonka got their name from a state park close to their hometown. On their third full-length, Death of a Decade, the band’s homage to their roots goes way beyond the superficiality of a name, as their southern/bluegrass infusion tackles encompassing the entirety of the region. The remnants of traditional southern rock amidst pastoral bluegrass, immense vocal harmonies, and the sparkling emphasis on the mandolin truly mirror the feel of central, rural Missouri – perfectly in sync with the old adage ‘write what you know.’ And if vocalist Brian Roberts and company know anything, it’s the Ozarks.
Named after Ha Ha Tonka State Park, located near their Missouri home base, this quartet reflects life in the Ozarks with a modern twist. Its first two discs were energetic and organic, a breed of indie rock with rootsy underpinnings that's come to public fruition lately with the success of bands like Mumford & Sons and Delta Spirit. On Death of a Decade, Ha Ha Tonka takes the harmonies and anthemic melodies one step further.