the one am radio [2011]

Bottom of the Hill
San Francisco, CA
18 May 2011

I love word games. I was raised on Scrabble, Boggle and deli. Kids gotta eat.

So when I read a few years back that Hrishikesh Hirway of The One AM Radio was a big Boggle fan, I couldn’t help but throw down an invitation to play the next time he came through San Francisco.

He did and we did. On a cloudy Wednesday night, in the chilly back room of Bottom of the Hill, my friend and I sat down with Hirway for a friendly, slightly-competitive game of Boggle. He had some time before the first opener came on, and we made good use of it. Hirway proved to be incredibly friendly and a skilled Boggle player.

The One AM Radio make beautiful electronic-fueled pop that moves between dark shadows and bouncy sunlight. Their 2007 album This Too Shall Pass was the former: expanses of melancholy strings over efficiently staccato drumbeats (a truly fantastic contrast). 2011’s Heaven Is Attached By a Slender Thread is the latter: up tempo and exuberant songs that come much closer to the dance floor than you might have ever anticipated.

And yet, it’s still Hirway. The opening track “Sunlight” might bounce you right along Wilshire Boulevard, but the lyrics reveal significant self-doubt and longing (“Come on sunlight / get me out of here / alive”). You very well may feel the urge to dance to “Plans”, but you can’t ignore lines like “if you don’t leave this place / something inside you dies” (I get the feeling he’s got mixed feelings about Los Angeles, his newish home). It’s this stark juxtaposition of emotions that makes Heaven such a wonderful album.

It quickly became clear that the night’s performance was all about the new album. Hirway guided the band through Heaven without once straying into old material. Impressively, the vocal crowd of fans was supportive throughout. There was no doubt that the risks he took with Heaven were appreciated.

There is an undeniable honesty in Hirway’s stage presence. He seems sincerely grateful to be able to share his music with others and his personal lyrics demonstrate a courageous vulnerability.

Hirway may be soft spoken, but his words and music are impossible to ignore. And his under-duress speed handwriting is impeccable.