Essentially the brainchild of area musician Luke Alexander, Big Hoax is exactly the band that would happen if Dave Matthews and Marcus Mumford had a baby and that baby had a best friend who plays the cello. The baby would be the couple’s most favorite child and it would go on to sneakily headline arenas and outdoor amphitheaters all around the world. He would never write a major Top 40 hit, but he could somehow sell 24,000 tickets to a concert at 65 bucks a pop.
It’s name would be Dave Mumford. Or Marcus Matthews. Or, whatever. You get it.
Anyway, you don’t need to crash into anyone — and nor do you have to wait for a thing — to understand these realities once you get your hands on “Open.,” Alexander’s seven-track, four-song EP that has no problem getting acoustic-loud at the drop of a dime, only to inevitably fade back into delicacy with precision. It’s the age-old trick that so many people appear to forget when it comes to the success of bands like Matthews’ and Mumford’s: The more you play in the gray area between soft and loud, the more respect you receive from a thinking man’s pop fan.
It’s not rocket science, but it’s not something that should be ignored, either. The most lasting example of as much comes in the form of “Wooden Horses,” a song that succeeds despite an unfortunate line like, “You’re so unbelievable, I can’t believe my eyes.” Alexander’s biggest asset is his vulnerability, and never does he sound more impassioned than he does as the track unfolds and he moves from gentle to aggressive in the same way Matthews does whenever he incites the thousands of college-aged cheers that formulate each time he hits an outdoor shed.
The guy just sounds so tortured. Yeah, a full band doesn’t ever really kick in like you might think it should, but the cello gets all Boyd Tinsley with its staccato strokes, creating an overflowing sensation that manipulates the end product to make any listener wonder if an actual orchestra is lurking somewhere within. At little more than five minutes, it’s as epic as an acoustic rock pseudo-one-man-show can sound. And the word epic, in this case, is actually warranted, for once. Just listen.
And when you do, also cue up “Over And Over,” the clearest shot at a single the EP has. Accessible to the core, its verses bounce with a light snare drum and an even more passive kick tempo. Coupled with a Stephen Filer cello riff that you swear you’ve heard before and Alexander’s ability to seamlessly play with crescendo, the result begs to be played on radio stations not just reserved for college campuses. Because when it kicks in, not only does it pierce through the monotony that songs like this can bring, it makes the chord progression unforgettable.
Alexander’s penchant for frailty then goes on to paint “Dreaming” with exquisitely somber colors. The set’s lone true ballad, it expands from an open guitar into a bonafide waltz by the time all is said and done. Imagine swaying along with your love in an 1890 European ballroom and you’ll get the picture. “I’m not sure where we’re going/ This ship gets pretty lonely with one member on board,” the singer relays with melancholy, and you believe him. Whether he’s crying or yelling, you believe him.
Which, all things considered, is probably Big Hoax’s secret weapon. “War Boar,” the only other true song left (the other three short tracks feature little more than aimless noise) recalls the Mumford comparison more accurately than other spots. Driven forward by that thriving kick drum all the newgrass artists love to use, the singer just can’t get enough of putting his angst on display, and that tenacity works better here than it does elsewhere. It’s that gruff, that unapologetic fervor that makes Luke Alexander an artist worth buying into. If nothing else, it takes you back to a time when passionate pop music was king.
These days? Not so much. Or, maybe more accurately, not as much. Top 40 artists aren’t born anymore; they’re made. They’re created by an outside source. Big Hoax, for all the intrigue and the zeal and the intensity that “Open.” chronicles, is a collective of true artistry; they are a group of honest musicians who make honest music. Alexander might be the ringleader, but none of these songs would resonate nearly as much without the help of the bells and whistles that surround his extremities. Together, it’s one big sound of people who care.
For that, Big Hoax should be lauded. And for that, “Open.” is much more than yet another album from yet another Dave Mumford or Marcus Matthews.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***