Reviews since 2002
*CANADIAN MUSICIAN —Jim Kelly
"Hopeful Monster" is an evolutionary term, referring to the process by which an organism mutates to the point of being recognized as a new, unique species. Likewise, Hopeful Monster, the band, springs from recognizable musical DNA to create something worthy of celebrating on its own terms.
An ace arranger, JBall revels in studio layering and stacks of harmonies a la Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys or more contemporary soundscapers like The High Llamas. "Both of those references have pretty sophisticated arrangements, which is something that I've been working towards," says Ball. "They're both good shoulders to be standing on."
What keeps the baroque sound of Hopeful Monster intriguing is the infusion of rootsy elements, like steel guitar and fiddle, punches of horns here and there, and brightly strummed acoustic guitars. Among the standout tracks, "Daily Electric" offers Bacharachian horn parts, bouncy pop piano and theremin. "Goldmine" is a deftly written ballad adorned with steel guitar and vibes, and "Cobra Wings" shimmers and soothes like an afternoon in the shade of a palm tree. Ball's voice is the perfect instrument for these tunes, evoking comparisons to pop vocal princes like Todd Rundgren or Carl Wilson.
Hopeful Monster is a welcome addition to the diversity and ongoing evolution of East Coast music.* *
*EXCLAIM! -James Keast (June 2002)
Some recording projects just seem to have a miraculous touch to them, and J.Ball’s debut as Hopeful Monster is one of those. Pieced together in rural Nova Scotia at his own Nervous System Studio, Ball writes and performs much of this sweeping, layered pop record, piling horns, strings and extra touches atop his simple, catchy melodies and managing to keep the whole under control—something that acclaimed Elephant Six producer Robert Schneider, dealing in similar circumstances, often has trouble doing. In many less experienced musicians, ambition is one thing, execution quite another, which is why Hopeful Monster comes off as such a masterstroke. From the quieter, more introspective tracks like “Universal Donor” to the zippier Zombies-esque romps, to the delicate balladry and ambitious arrangements, Ball manages to pull it all off with aplomb. His familiarity with the landscape of pop’s history allows him to both submerse himself in it and subvert it from within, like “Goldmine.” A remarkable debut that sparks hope that this Hopeful Monster is a marathon runner, not a sprinter.
*CHARTATTACK.COM -Chris Burland (July 16, 2002)
HERE’S TO HOPEFUL MONSTER
Until recently, 2002 seemed destined to be remembered as the year the music died. Many of the hyped critical releases have passed by this reporter with little interest or sympathy. […] Then a little package from Halifax's Hopeful Monster landed on my desk a couple of weeks ago and I'm in love, well, maybe just very very happy and sappy. Multi-instrumentalist Jason Ball with the help of Paul Aucoin has made the best solo pop album since Todd Rundgren's amazing tour-de-force, Something/Anything. The self-titled release skitters through many different styles: pop, new wavey electro-pop ("River Reflective") cool Bacharachian piano-pop ("Daily Electric") and spacey-pop — all this in just the first two songs. Throughout this album I find myself singing along to lyrics like "I want you so bad I damn myself to hell" from "Goldmine" and banging on any surface to "Stars Are Photomagnets" and "Cobra Wings." This is my favourite album of 2002 so far!! *
*CALGARY STRAIGHT —Michael White
GOING COASTAL — The Nova Scotian pop renaissance continues
Where do they come from, these bottomless reserves of melodies that evoke every great Californian pop moment of the past 30 years –whether the Beach Boys or Flying Burrito Brothers or Fleetwood Mac – without mimicking any of them? And why is that their most generous springs are almost all clustered in Nova Scotia, lying in wait for yet another local prodigy to harvest an album’s worth of them and then share them with the world? And why does our country continue to ignore them while, overseas, tongues wax ecstatic?
Last year, Halifax’s the Heavy Blinkers released Better Weather, an evocatively titled masterpiece seemingly broadcast from an alternate universe in which AM Top 40 radio dictates the tenor of life. It remains one of the best classicist Canadian pop record in years, but it has strong competition in this debut from Hopeful Monster, the vehicle for one Jason Ball. Written, performed and produced by Ball at his rural home studio in Seabright, he and a supporting cast of over a dozen have created 11 songs that strive to do justice to a bygone era of pop in which grandeur was requisite, size mattered (think Phil Spector, Pet Sounds).
Hopeful Monster gets down to business immediately, “River Reflexive” letting loose a flurry of horns, harmonies, and Who-like drum flourishes while Ball declares “Someday when the stars are all in line / I’ll make gospel of the cliches.” Perhaps better still is “Daily Electric,” a Theremin-dappled gem that imagines the Banana Splits taking over from Brian Wilson after his late-’60s meltdown, but fronted by the Zombies’ Colin Blundstone. There’s also a clutch of lovely chamber-country ballads; the pedal steel that weaves throughout “Universal Donor” sounds as if it’s been left to fend for itself in the desert, while “Cobra Wings” and “Silver Lining” rise out of their initially disconsolate moods to become widescreen testimonials to joy. Another under-the-radar homespun classic. What will it take to make more people hear the brilliance in our midst?
*AMPLIFIER —Michael Berick(July/August 2002)
Hopeful Monster’s mastermind Jason Ball plays guitars, keyboards, bass, percussion, mandolin and theremin, but this isn’t a one-man show. Creating what could be described as an “analog orchestra” (also populated with strings and horns), Ball has given this disc a lush and quirky sound. If the theremin signals a clue into Ball’s love of the Beach Boys, then the sweet layered vocals and the sunshine pop vibes make his affection explicit. Separating Ball from the other would-be Wilsonians is his creative use of country elements (particularly Dale Murray’s invaluable pedal steel playing). While “River Reflexive” and “Daily Electric” kick the record off to a bouncy start, the twangy and dreamy “Universal Donor” slows the pace. Instead of writing about surfing and girls, Ball favors rather knotty lyrics (“cast me off this naked bough/ the fruit is rotten”) that make his songs more esoteric than engaging. Its notable that “Goldmine,” which recalls both early Todd Rundgren and Neil Young, stands as the disc’s most emotionally direct track as well as one of its most memorable songs. With one foot in the ‘60s Space Age and the other in a desert sand dune, Ball has created a beguiling sound for his Hopeful Monster *
*BEES KNEES (Spring 2003)
Canada's very own Great Lakes would have to be Hopeful Monster. Demand a refund on your latest Sloan record, and get this record. Hopeful Monster is all about the Zombies, Rundgren, Lilys, Love, Wilson and Parsons. You get 60s orchestra pop with lush strings, bubblegum, r&b grooves, and country-tinged songs all within the first few tracks. Hopeful Monster is one man for the most part Jason Ball, and you can tell he has spent loads of hours in a studio, as this project has the sound of someone who plays, produces, and engineers. It’s full to the very last note, and hard to imagine a better Elephant 6 record not made by those Athens/Denver collective.