Mister Heavenly - Out of Love
Record Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: August 16, 2011
Music coverage is evolving much like all other forms of media. The majority form their opinions prematurely, based on limited information, hearsay, and a presumption of how music will sound. Mister Heavenly was a project ripe for these uninformed assumptions from the get-go, an easy target for the ire of those snarky internet commentators. First, the lineup is small in number, but big on talent; Man Man’s Ryan “Honus Honus” Kattner lends his singular howl; the industrious, experimenting Nick Thorburn (The Unicorns, Islands, numerous other projects) provides the other half of the key vocal delivery; and Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse and The Shins is the final, instrumental cog on drums. That alone is fodder enough, but there were a few other flags. Sub Pop signed them before they had every performed. They proclaimed they were inventing a genre called “doom wop,” which is some sort of combination of 50’s doo-wop and something darker. Most notoriously, they dared to have Michael Cera as their touring bass player.
Perhaps it is that that makes Out of Love seem that much more impressive. “Supergroups” and side-projects often suffer from either sounding too similar to a specific member’s full-time gig or too dissimilar (or so a disappointed fan would have everyone know). Mister Heavenly do a impressive job blending the styles they have come from and the genre they created, jokingly or not. Despite the presence of two well-known, recognizable voices, Mister Heavenly has crafted an identity more independent of its members’ origins than a number of other projects of this nature. Mister Heavenly doesn’t have the punch of a Man Man or Islands, and you never quite get rid of the thought that you're listening to Kattner and Thorburn, but it is definitely creatively different and unique enough to be deserving of better than such nicknames as “the Michael Cera band.”
This is only the first step, obviously. Individuality is wonderful, but far more important is the quality; fortunately, there is a good amount of quality music here. Out of Love isn’t an album that relies upon continuity and a build up from one track to the next; though there is a general cohesion, each track is its own entity. Because of this, the success of the album rests largely upon each track holding its own. For the most part, each song does this. “Pineapple Girl” might be the most addictive song released thus far this year. It’s a showcase for all involved, as the Kattner-Thorburn back and forth, driven by Plummer’s drumming, creates a song that is simultaneously fun and dark (a concept not at all foreign to those involved). The singular and climactic opener“Bronx Sniper,” the ever-shifting, jangly “I Am a Hologram,” and the 50’s pop of “Diddy Eyes” all stand out as well.
As for “doom wop,” it is hard to quantify. The 50’s-reminiscent rhythms and sounds are pervasive, as promised. It’s also dark, which was also expected. The album is, to quote a phrase from numerous interviews, full of “unhappy love songs,” and lyrics to puzzle over throughout. But this doesn’t feel like an album that defines or creates a genre. That’s okay, though. We have enough genres to fight over as is, and doom wop always seemed similar to True Widow’s “stone gaze;” we were never sure whether to take it seriously not.
No, if there is anything that is “wrong“ with Out of Love, it is something else. It’s a good album - but it could’ve been a great EP. It feels like a collection of songs, which is fine, but it just doesn‘t hold up all the way through. By the end, attention drifts and interest lags, and the songs just don’t have the pizzazz of “Pineapple Girl” or “Bronx Sniper.” They have some interesting moments, a few intriguing ideas, but the aren’t enough of them to make the songs really impress themselves upon the listener. When there isn’t an over-arching theme or a thematic or conceptual connectedness, this is a more glaring problem.
Why, though? Is the problem that there is only so much that doom wop can give us? Could it be because these three talented musicians haven’t quite found the proper formula, with further tinkering needed? I feel - and hope - it is the latter. Mister Heavenly looks to continue for at least a little longer, as a new tour was announced for November. Should there be new material someday, and were it to improve upon Out of Love, the view of Out of Love might be different. Possibly it would be more as a taste of what was to come - which is how this would best function.
Let’s not end this on such a negative note though. I nitpick because I care. Here we are given a bevy of talent and a few superb songs on what is only the first release from this busy trio. Out of Love is old-timey, fun (yet dark), and deep enough to merit sinking your teeth into it a bit. The best way to enjoy this is from a slightly less critical eye; savor the bright spots, as they easily outshine those moments that are less effective.