1993's Mouth by Mouth
marks a high point in His Name Is Alive's career, consolidating the band's musical elements -- sweet vocals, technicolor production, evocative guitar work, and arty arrangements -- into 16 songs that are as diverse as they are cohesive. Memories of Michigan summertimes, Theodore Roethke's poetry, and sensuality collide, creating the fractured sugar-pop of "Baby Fish Mouth" and "Lip," which sit comfortably beside the stark, cello-driven "Cornfield." The band's sinister side pops up on "Ear," a deadpan retelling of Vincent van Gogh's self-amputation. Mouth by Mouth
"rocks" more than any of the band's previous work, thanks to the continued involvement of the Dirt Eaters
; they are credited with the album's louder songs, such as the fuzzed-out "Drink, Dress and Ink" and "The Torso." An electrified version of "The Dirt Eaters" rounds out Mouth by Mouth
, hinting at the group's increasing pop tendencies. His Name Is Alive's spooky, ethereal side is here too, evident on songs like the spiritually inclined "Lord, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace" and the gamelan-pop of "Sort Of." "Can't Go Wrong Without You" manages to be creepy, catchy, and beautiful all at once (surreal stop-motion filmmakers The Brothers Quay made a fittingly eerie video for this song). The blissed-out cover of Big Star's "Blue Moon" and the Roethke-inspired "Where Knock Is Open Wide" add a dreamy, folky feel to Mouth by Mouth's stylistic mix. A transitional work for a group whose very style is change, Mouth by Mouth
begins His Name Is Alive's embrace of more traditional pop styles (for their own purposes, of course) and the departure from their overtly ethereal sound. It's a fresh, fascinating album that improves with repeated listening.