Blue Skies For Black Hearts - Serenades And Hand Grenades
Record Label: King Of Hearts Records
Release Date: May 20, 2008
While I had not heard of Portland, Oregon’s Blue Skies For Black Hearts until I found their album sitting in my mailbox, they have been making some waves as of late landing on the cover of Performer Magazine and being named a Paste band of the week. In addition to that, the bands songwriter, Patrick Kearns, has quite the resume having produced numerous records for local Northwest bands as well as serving as a sound engineer for Death Cab For Cutie and Spoon. Serenades and Hand Grenades is the band’s fourth album and Kearns describes the band’s music as “pop music the way it should be made.” While this statement might seem a little arrogant, one cannot help but admire his confidence.
Considering many indie bands as of the past few years have been marked by angular guitars, dance beats, or other forms of experimentation, “Siouxsie Please Come Home” comes as quite the surprise. Simple drum beats, sparse guitar lines, and Kearn’s subdued yet soulful vocals indicate the band is aiming more to pay homage to bands of yesteryear than trying to build on the blueprint of success set forth by their modern contemporaries. Although the track starts out slow and sparse, the chorus is surprisingly engaging with the shouted vocals and strong pop melodies. “A World Without Love” continues the retro sound established by “Siouxsie Please Come Home”, but has a much more upbeat and sunny disposition.
“Jenny & Steve” tells the tale of a very complex relationship between two fictional characters and finds the band beginning to experiment and flesh out the bare bones structures of their previous songs by adding the occasional tuba and trumpet accompaniment and the occasional doo wop influenced backing vocal harmonies. “Ambition” makes the greatest opening statement of any of the other tracks starting triumphantly with a blasting horn section and buzzing guitars. This track is easily among my favorites and is the perfect balance between the band’s simplistic yet engaging pop leanings and a slight garage rock edge. Unfortunately, Blue Skies For Black Hearts do not build off the momentum they set into motion with “Ambition”, and instead follow with the classic rock inspired “Sweet Valentine”. There are a few notable guitar squalls and rhythms here and there, but ultimately the vocal style Kearns utilizes on this track does not always mesh well with the music.
However, the band regain their footing with the mid-tempo rocker “I Still Wish That You Were Around”, which has an impressive solo that more than makes up for the rough transition between styles in the two preceding tracks. Although most of Serenades and Hand Grenades tends to stray from the current indie trends, “Pretty People” has the most in common with that sound. Although this might seem like a drawback, it is on of the strongest tracks on the album and shows the most intensity out of any of the other twelve songs. The album closes with “Someday There Will Be Better Days”, a track that deals with divorce. The album ends in a much different manner as it began as the barebones structures of “Siouxsie Please Come Home” were abandoned for a far richer sound. The piano notes that pace most of the track are a pleasant surprise as the string accompaniment that add a touch of orchestral beauty to the bands sound.
Upon my first listen, I was not immediately grabbed by Serenades and Hand Grenades. However, after multiple listens its charms began to win me over. The album is not without flaws and thus came across as a little disjointed. There are some songs on the album that are outstanding and hit almost immediately, but there are also just as many that leave little to no lasting impression. So while I may not agree with Kearn’s sentiments from the beginning of this review, I look forward to seeing how Blue Skies For Black Hearts progress on their next release.