Their name may evoke a certain robot in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Hal is the polar opposite of space-age efficiency: Their debut album is an exuberant explosion of pure, fun, optimistic retro-pop. Lilting falsettos and the perfect harmonies of singer brothers David and Paul Allen adorn ultra-catchy, laid-back pop. From energetic poppy numbers to sweet, light ballads, these 11 songs are intricately arranged with nods to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Monkees, Motown and a certain kind of '70s-era summertime groove. It's a safe bet the lads in Hal have a few Phil Spector records in their collections as well, for they've taken the lessons of the "wall of sound" to heart. Ascending crescendos of strings, bells, keyboards and horns build a lavish backdrop on songs like "Coming Right Over." Layers of Brian Wilson-inspired background vocals (not to mention some very Beach Boys-esque chimes) swirl into a rich aural palette on "Play the Hits." Quick, overlapping vocals provide a nice counterpoint to the relatively quiet verses of "Fools By Your Side." That song and the opener, "What a Lovely Dance," are the album's strongest points, but the energy never flags; it just settles down to a cheerful ebullience by the album's end. Lyrically, the approach is positive, almost naïve--sunshine, getting over it and dealing with your problems are Hal's advice for pain, it appears. Fans of melodic throwback pop--the Thrills, Lilys, Beachwood Sparks, etc. --will rejoice upon hearing this fun, feel-good record, and rightly so.


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