Lanikai, like the Hawaiian beach they get their name from, mix the serene and the stormy, pulling together lush, sparkling alt-pop vibes and swaggering ‘60s soul groove to create a timeless, distinctive sound. With one foot in the past and one in the present—one on the shore and one in the sea—Lanikai’s debut sets them apart from their contemporaries. Instead of breaking under current trends, they bend with them. Instead of being haunted by influences that came before, they celebrate them with subtlety. Their first, self-titled offering distills this approach to its finest form: gorgeous, poignant pop music.
It eases the listener in slowly on “Motor Inn” with a simple back and forth piano and organ until lead singer and songwriter Marti Sarbit’s unforgettable voice pushes it into a swirling chorus. It continues into a swaying head-nodder (“Hey Hey (Ok In Love)”); driven, ascendent rock ‘n’ roll (“Believe Me”); sexy and spacey orchestral romps (“I Need Love”); an irresistible, swinging duet (“Stay a Little Longer”), and more, each filled with addictive, masterful hooks. By the joyous, uplifting closer, “I’m Glad”, bursting with sun-soaked melodies and a glorious, snowballing, psych-pop crescendo, the urge to start the whole thing again hits even before the song fades to silence.
The record bursts with love for its influences—the soul of Sam Cooke, the popgenius of Feist, the poetic bent of Emily Haines—but doesn’t mimic them. Inspired by Sarbit’s interaction and immersion in the world around her, the record is burst- ing with the contrast of its human relationships: the good, the bad, the confusing, the transcendent, the surreal. While there are certainly dark moments, it never falls prey to cynicism, instead celebrates the simple fact that we’re alive—so let’s make a little noise.
It’s no surprise to those who know of Sarbit that Lanikai is a triumph. Her previous band Imaginary Cities—along with Rusty Matyas, who co-produced two songs on Lanikai’s debut as well as gifting his trumpet skills—was an award-winning indie-pop goliath which toured North America with Pixies and were long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize. Lanikai’s personnel are in possession of some impressive resumes as well. It features producer Thomas D’Arcy (The Carnations, Small Sins) who also sings on “Stay a Little Longer”; Gregory Macdonald (Sloan) on keys; Shamus Currie (The Sheepdogs) on trombone, and a score of other players including Liam O’Neil (saxophone), Tim Iskierski (drums), Drew Jurecka (strings), and Tom Moffett (trumpet).
Lanikai—more than any musical voyage she embarked on before—is the crystal clear sound of Marti Sarbit’s purest voice. And it rings out powerfully, well beyond the shores she stands on and into the sky—whether it be dark and stormy, or awash with blue calm.