Ha Ha Tonka: Making the Mandolin Cool on Death of a Decade
Missouri quartet, Ha Ha Tonka, recently released their third album, Death of a Decade, on which they rock out with their mandolin out. A stunning and interesting record with a sense of urgency yet with a feeling of familiarity due to their blend of indie rock and roots, more specifically Southern rock and bluegrass. Recorded in a 200-year-old barn located in New Paltz, New York, the floor-board rattling and wall-shaking can clearly be heard throughout their songs, sounding like the Ozark’s answer to Arcade Fire.
Death of a Decade sees each band member contributing and relying less on Brett Anderson’s guitar and more on his lilting mandolin, but most of the raucousness derives from Lennon Bone’s pounding percussion and Luke Long’s driving bass. Also, on this record we find the band more united producing beautiful four part harmonies. The album’s opener, “Usual Suspects,” which propels Death of a Decade into another atmosphere with its soaring mandolin riffs. And, while hitting an up-tempo stride, the band seamlessly flows right into the next track, “Westward Bound,” which abounds with four part harmonies and more mandolin. “Made Example Of” has a flying mandolin and boisterous chorus while “Jesusita” starts softly then breaks into an enthusiastic chorus, but both contain an Arcade Fire quality. The album slows down with some delicate picking on the acoustic break, “Hide It Well,” and continues in a resting mode on “Dead Man’s Hand” and throughout the second half of Death of a Decade. The highlight of the second half is the mandolin melody and harmonies on the penultimate track, “No Great Harm.”
After listening to Death of a Decade, you will no longer look at or listen to the mandolin in the same way. And, by centering the songs around one of the most underutilized and under respected instruments in the rock world, Ha Ha Tonka has created one of their best albums, if not their best.
Yes, mandolin players, this is your record. Ha Ha Tonka is calling out to you, telling you that you’re not forgotten and you too can rock that mandolin. Hearken to their cry – Mandolin players of the world unite and start a rock revolution of your own.
— April Wolfe @ Common Folk Music