Inhabiting a unique spot at the crossroads of modern indie rock and backcountry American folk music, Ha Ha Tonka has delivered yet again with their fourth, highly anticipated album, Lessons. More introspective and instrumentally complex than their previous work, this multilayered set of tracks has far-reaching appeal, but rewards those who enjoy analyzing lyrics.
With four-part harmonies and instrumentals comparable to other indie rock acts Beirut and Spoon, the most striking element of the uplifting album is its messages—or, as the title implies, lessons. It’s replete with mature themes; such as the disillusionment that accompanies the process of growing up and the futility of pursuing the American dream.
Among noteworthy tracks, “Colorful Kids” is an upbeat but wistful reflection on simpler childhood years. The lyrics reference the fictional American icon, Huckleberry Finn, spurring notions of adventure, freedom, and playfulness. Complemented by the highly textured, fast-paced melody, the track evokes an overwhelming, but enjoyable sense of nostalgia.
At the heart of the album, the title track, “Lessons,” throws down a slow-burning, groovy beat—which is sonically a bit of a departure from the folksy tone of the first five tracks. The repetition of the line “I can’t keep learning the same lessons over again” is chanted, like a mantra, over an imaginative bass line. The anguished lyrics seem to have created the scaffolding for the angsty emotional trajectory of the album.
Although the album is great for the passive listener, Ha Ha Tonka’s originality stems more from their meaningful lyrics than their raw musicality. With messages stretching throughout, Lessons calls for an active audience committed to deciphering complex themes.