A deeply existential work. Time is of the essence for HOAX’s ‘b?‘, not because it is racing against it but because it is steeped in observing it and often reflecting on our experience of it. The subject pops up over and over again, either mentioned directly by the lyrics or indirectly by the finer points embedded in the themes of many of the songs. It all seems like a subconscious emanation that becomes apparent after the fact rather than a deliberate choice by Michael Raj and Frantz Cesar – the masterminds behind HOAX.
At the heart of ‘b?’ is that very question, only syntactically diluted to a semiotic expression for the sake of both intrigue and elegance, but to spell it out further: “If all you are is what you do, how can you ever be?”. The friction between “Doing” and “Being” is what sparked the burning question that fuels the entire album, and to begin answering it, HOAX’s thesis statement opens with “what was”, a look at the past through the time-space wormhole of memories.
“when I was sitting at an 88-key piano crammed into a tiny 10’x10’ room under the JMZ line in Bushwick – I had a distant memory of six-year-old me in Sunday school on Merrick, Long Island. Five other kids and I were memorizing something called the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It’s a series of questions and answers that you were supposed to memorize to help you navigate through life. The first Q&A was:
- What is the chief end of man?
- Man’s chief end is to glorify God, [a] and to enjoy him forever.
At 6 years old, that was the meaning of life that was taught to me. But life is naturally a fucking basket case of emotional experiences that spirals into chaos so perfectly that you could believe in a higher divinity that would use shit like the Fibonacci Sequence to fuck with us.”
‘Trees’ starts simple enough as a piano-driven Indie-Rock ballad, but before all is said and done, it starts to echo strongly of prog-rock elements through its bedazzlingly bountiful sound, each layer revealing many-hued complexities for the adventurous ear, but never compromising the easy-to-follow melodic charm that makes the whole of the song. All of this in turn feels like it does a great job of setting the Tone for the entire length of the album, though it does nothing to prepare you for the little twists and turns that it will take, courtesy of HOAX’s compositional mastery.
When ‘Trees’ fades out to the harsh sounds of a record scratch, ‘Could’ breaks by riding a wave of inscrutable yet relatively upbeat nostalgia, or perhaps even a bit of regret, because the song itself is about having a difficult conversation of oneself, precisely to avoid living with regret down the line. As the band itself says, Could is “…the byproduct of quiet examinations of people sacrificing happiness in the name of practicality. So much so that life becomes a monotonous chore of DOING. There is an inherent constant struggle that we all have with: BEING vs. DOING”
‘Could’ is at once about coming to terms with what we do in the face of what our true selves might wish, but it is also an exploration of the endless myriad of choices that lay in front of us and the internal conflict brought on by indecisiveness when faced with said choices. What will happen if I do this instead of that? Will I come to regret following what I think is my dreams or will I come to hate choosing my career over this relationship? So many choices in life come as binary, with a great price to pay in any case and no way to tell for certain what is best, even in the aftermath.
‘Soju’ is an even greater sonic twist -at least at first- than ‘Could’ was- It starts off with a whimsical melody that feels comically out of place next to the two previous tracks, at least sonically because the song itself is sadder and deeper than it lets on at first, as the first verse and chorus were “written about the aftermath of loss and grief”, choosing from painting its soundscape with brushstrokes of Bossa Nova all the more puzzling and impactful.
Ultimately the song is not about how awful the pain and suffering of loss is, but that realizing that this awful aching is merely evidence of a love so true and so beautiful that one should be encouraged to seek it out once again, to spread it, to create it and let it be known to others- And this is something that I found resonates deeply with me, and I can’t help but agree wholeheartedly and testify to the veracity of these lyrics with all my heart.
Up until now, and if you pay enough attention, you realize that one of the core tenets of the album so far has been the concept of -our- time. And no track emphasizes it more acutely than ‘Wasting Time’.
The origins of the song are quite fascinating and worth mentioning in and of themselves. “Somewhere in the midst of creating b?, I read a paper by Adrian Bejan,” writes Michael Raj “he hypothesizes that, over time, the rate at which we process visual information slows down, and this is what makes time “speed up” as we grow older. Moreover, aging causes our nerves to accumulate damage that provides resistance to the flow of electric signals, further slowing processing time”
Whether this hypothesis is true or not, it still calls to mind the inescapable feeling that most of us have: The older you are, the faster time flies by. In HOAX’s thesis, we’re all finite and “wasting away” as we get older, so we mustn’t do it all alone.
“It is natural to look up for answers. Our light comes from above, and we crave to be done away from darkness, but if you spend all your time looking up, you miss what happens at eye level, and those are often more divine than the heavens themselves.”
If you had a deity in front of you, what sort of question would you ‘Formulate’? Raised as a Christian in a region of India with a majority Hindu population, it is no surprise that Michael Raj’s lyrics would feature religion and spirituality as an important part of them. The song lands on the shorter side of things but it does boast one of if not the catchiest riffs in the entire album, and that’s saying a lot.
-Beach House ii
“Priorities change but people never do, and I would be a fool to think you’re worth it to lose”
A very curious surprise, ‘Beach House ii’ switches everything up and throws the smoothest and nicest curve ball in the entire album by being an almost straight-up R&B track -and an excellent one at that.
Its sweet and laidback atmosphere makes a paradoxically strong statement about the disarming charm that HOAX has as a band, how they ease themselves into your mind with dexterity and tenacity but also with extreme subtlety. If Smoothness is the name of the game for R&B, HOAX shows that they got it in spades.
With a return to the light-hearted-but-darkly-shaded Rock sound, ‘Drew’ splashes onto the album’s runtime, making a strong statement right off the bat with its enticing bassline and its killer new-wave-ish riff with hints of post-punk rhythmics. I think ‘Drew’ really ties up the first half of the album brilliantly with its wistful, bittersweet sound before the actual midpoint.
The Song itself is inspired both by David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest’ and the acclaimed A24 Film ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ and it deals with the conflict between the universal idea that we’re all unique deep inside, versus our own desire for approval and to feel like we belong to something greater than ourselves.
The Titular Track is a special one for sure, and it’s by far the richest sound-wise of everything we’ve had so far, almost like it wants to cross over onto math Rock territory but falls just shy of it in favor of remaining true-er to the identity of HOAX’s own sound. and if it feels like this song is the most uplifting -if not euphoric- then that is entirely by design:
“The whole idea of transitioning from a DO-er to a BE-er is embodied by the positioning of this track. If the first seven songs are the exposition and rising action, “b?” is the climax. It’s the epiphany – but it isn’t meant to be esoteric or grand; instead, it is just a simple truth boiled down to a quiet realization”
One of the qualities of the track’s placement here is that almost every song after it will generally feel different than everything before. Whatever you want to call the “Indie-Rock” sound of HOAX up until this point has been pretty consistent despite the surprises and changes that they’ve had in store for us, from here onward however it’s as though each song is playing on their own aesthetic rules rather than those previously established by their forerunners. Whether this was an entirely deliberate choice to further the themes of Doing Vs Being, I’ll leave it to you, but the change in gears feels rather apparent.
in a similar trick to that of Soju, where the music throws you off from what the lyrics are getting at, ‘5’ is a kind of downtempo funky track that not only expands the range that HOAX can play with as a band but also makes for a very sensual listening experience out of a song that examines the five stages of grief. try saying that at loud!
One of the most unique and interesting songs in the entire album due to its sound, structure, and also its lyrics. ‘goldeneyes’ takes the narrative approach up to eleven by telling us of the effects of the fictional drug that is its namesake- You’ll see what you want to see, what your mind is most obsessed with; these fantastical effects are mere eyedrops away, and the hallucinations are highly addictive, much despite the powerful depressive comedown that follows a session.
I can say no more than what the song says for itself, just Imagine if there was such a drug and what this mental exercise tells us about ourselves. Would you trade depression for momentary bliss? do you often choose to see what you want to see despite reality?
-You Get So Alone Sometimes
The second-person perspective is seldom used outside of roleplaying and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure games, very rarely in music too-the one song I can think of right now is Bob Seger’s ‘Turn The Page’- but it can be used to great effect as a catalyst for empathy, to get the listener to relate to something more effectively than in more traditional 1st-person songwriting.
The Point of ‘You Get So Alone Sometimes’ is not to make us feel alone, however, nor is it to mollycoddle the listener with a pat-on-the-back message about how it will “get better” in time. for HOAX, the true meaning of the song is in accepting it as a part of the human condition, where we can only ever feel lonely if we’ve experienced the warmth of others, and we can only truly value them when we’ve felt that loneliness within and around us before.
Even negative emotions have value and meaning on the way to being.
“Unconditionality is a lifelong work. And admittance is the first step.”
A lot has been said about unconditional love, with some cynics outright denying its existence, relegating it to pretty delusions, or subjecting it to the realm of semantics in order to spring some logic trap against it. Be that as it may, the idea of loving someone *in spite* of their flaws isn’t what’s at the heart of this song, but loving them *with* their flaws because a lot of times, it makes them -and us- who they are.
-More than you Know
‘More Than You Know’ cleaved a way into my heart right away. I loved it intensely right from the start. It’s a very sentimental and straightforward soft Rock And Roll ballad in the vein of something like -say- Roy Orbison. I think it quite simply cemented itself as my favorite song in this whole ordeal.
It’s curious then, that with such a dated-yet-timeless sound, the song would be inspired by 21st-century romance powered by algorithms.
“I’ve recently been obsessing over the idea of algorithms, especially modern romances that are propelled from dating apps. We would put trust into an algorithm that finds us matches based on different factors of convenience. You can trust in a computational programmed algorithm to find your perfect match — very much like how my parents trusted an analog version of an algorithm (aka my grandparents) to find a spouse.
Though i expected something more cynical and acerbic from the title, I guess I should have known better. ‘Unamerican Dream‘ isn’t exactly about deconstructing that much-vaunted idea that we’re all familiar with the world over. Both Raj and Cesar know all too well the struggles, challenges, and paradigms of immigrants in the U.S., and this song, in particular, is written from the Point Of View of an immigrant father at death’s door, as he’s coming to terms with his sacrifices, failures, and regrets in his pursuit of the American Dream.
It takes something particularly special to upstage any song in this album. Much like ‘More than you Know’ before it, ‘Western Medicine’ is so overwhelmingly tender and beautiful in its first few seconds that I just became instantly enamored with it. A very close second favorite for sure.
There’s a hint of sadness here, but from every string present to the gentle tone in the vocals, the song itself is fittingly fashioned after a soothing balm that makes the pain go away-
The lyrics harbor a lot of sobriety in them. The song calls out our very human tendency to try and numb the pain of existence by the very act of hoping for better days. This is not done in a nihilistic or snide tone, it’s more about a difficult but ultimately true insight.
In many ways, the bittersweet and ultimately uplifting sound of the song feels like closure for what has been a fantastic album
The true closing statement of this conceptual album is ‘Lily’s Time’, a song that feels almost like a surprise encore in the intimate space between the guitar, the vocals, and us, the listener.
Another supremely gentle and tender piece of music that seeks to soothe and reassure us that just allowing ourselves to simply be is perhaps the highest source of happiness or satisfaction or that we can hope to achieve – it may be the thing that ends up mattering most in the end, and as such it truly feels like the best possible way to wrap everything up.
In 1927, Existential German philosopher Martin Heidegger published his most notable work ‘Being and Time’. Through it, Heidegger greatly explored the concept of Dasein, roughly meaning “being there” or “presentness”, which in turn refers to the uniquely (as we believe) human quality of both being and experiencing being itself. This is in contrast to a lifeless object such as a comb or a rock, which exists in the world -thus is– but has neither life nor the ability to experience itself in relation to the world that surrounds it.
For both HOAX and Heidegger, authenticity are of the utmost importance, and it is the way to awaken Dasein. To fulfill the truest most genuine expression of ourselves in the world is to be fully present in time and space, fully *be*. The album crystallizes this concern in a more abstract and sensual way, their own approach focusing on the dichotomy between simply ‘Doing’ and thoroughly ‘Being’ and how the former can keep us from the latter, and their 17-song journey examining their own version of Being and Time thus becomes a thought-provoking piece that bides us to look inwards towards our realization of being as they leave us with the following thought:
“If you get anything out of this whole entire album, I hope it is the courage to just bloom, to just be, and that peace finds you well. Best of luck.”
Story: Samuel Aponte Photos: Courtesy of the Artist
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